issue Spring 2023

From Snowbound Strangers to Ensuring Student Futures

By Amy Knutson Strack

Elliot Rubinstein, MD ’69, and wife P.A. Rubinstein credit Chicago Medical School — and one historic snowstorm — for a lifetime of good fortune.

From falling in love to career achievements, the Rubinsteins trace much of their success to when Dr. Rubinstein trekked from New York to begin his studies at CMS. Following his aspirations to become a doctor, Dr. Rubinstein speaks humbly about being accepted into CMS.

“I was scared,” said Dr. Rubinstein. “I didn’t want to disappoint myself, my parents and all those who supported me. The first semester was very trying and intense.”

In addition to developing his own self-confidence, Dr. Rubinstein learned that professors supported the entire class to reach the finish line, extending an all-in attitude to help each other succeed.

“After the first semester, I said, ‘I can do this, this is not a problem,’” said Dr. Rubinstein. “The only obstacle was going to be myself.”

Shortly into his second year of studies, he met P.A.

During the record-setting 1967 Chicago snowstorm, 26 inches of snow fell in two days. Dr. Rubinstein was at his apartment on the North Side of the city near Lake Michigan. Mrs. Rubinstein, a teacher from a small town in Illinois, lived there, too. 

“We lived in the same apartment building for six months and never met,” said Mrs. Rubinstein. 

Unable to venture outside, a mutual friend hosted a gathering of neighbors where Dr. Rubinstein joined and met Mrs. Rubinstein for the first time. They dated until they married in 1970 — with a snowy, winter wedding. 

At first, Dr. Rubinstein thought of becoming an OB-GYN, but he reconsidered it after working with asthma patients. Even routine work — such as learning how to administer IV drugs slowly, which significantly helped people breathe better — informed his career choice.

The work also shaped the care he offered patients, each with their own needs.

“The two years of clerkship at CMS showed me and taught me how to be a good clinician. People are not clients. Everyone is different.”

“Chicago Medical School gave me this opportunity, and we strongly feel that helping (students) is the least we can do.”

By 1977, the Rubinsteins moved to Ithaca, New York, where Dr. Rubinstein bought an allergy practice and started Asthma & Allergy Associates. Still in Ithaca and recently retired — with two children and five grandchildren — together they have been long-time donors to the university, rooted in a vision to give back. In 2019, they established the Elliot Rubinstein, MD ’69, & P.A. Rubinstein Honorary Endowed Scholarship to support students.

“When it comes down to life … you have family, close friends and a lifestyle. We’ve managed to do all three with Chicago Medical School, and we strongly feel that helping (students) is the least we can do,” said Dr. Rubinstein.

As they remember their start in Chicago, the Rubinsteins partner with CMS to ensure students reach their aspirations. And every year, they watch Chicago winter weather reports — just to make sure their 1967 all-time record snowfall sticks. 

Amy Knutson Strack is director of advancement communications in the Office of Institutional Advancement.