This article originally published in In Jersey Magazine.
As surgeons, they are already regarded as rock stars, renowned for their skills in, among other things, reattaching severed limbs, reconstructing shattered bodies and restoring beauty and a sense of wholeness to women scarred by breast cancer.
Yet every once in a while, doctors Andrew Elkwood, Matthew Kaufman, Michael Rose and Jonathan Weiswasser literally get up on stage and perform before cheering crowds, unleashing the rejuvenating magic of rock ’n’ roll.
The foursome, partners with doctors Tushar Patel and Russell Ashinoff in The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction and The Plastic Surgery Center, based in Shrewsbury, play together in a band called Cell Division that has won a doctors-oriented Battle of the Bands charity event two years running.
“We smoked ’em,” says Rose, 43, of Little Silver.
The band, which is not to be confused with a Swiss Goth group by the same name, is emblematic of a highly successful medical practice whose members work hard, play hard and probably have more fun together than any group of doctors you’re likely to come across.
These are not the type of people who go home after work and crash on the couch. Weiswasser, a vascular surgeon, for example, is a drummer in several professional bands and an experienced pilot and flight instructor who once built an airplane in his basement.
He taught Rose, a plastic surgeon and neuropathy specialist, to fly, too. Both are now in the process of restoring vintage Cobra race cars – that is, when they’re not flying, jamming, scuba diving or skiing with the other partners in the group.
“I always say the second most important decision (besides) who you marry is who you’re in practice with,” says Elkwood, 47, of Marlboro, a plastic surgeon who also specializes in limb replantation.
“Professionally, your philosophies and skills and so on need to be commensurate with each other. But in the practice, your outlook in life, your goals, your way of seeing things, also need to jibe,” he says.
Clearly, there’s a lot of jibing going on in this practice.
“I’ve never met a happier group of doctors. I really mean that,” says Weiswasser, 44, of Montclair. “The people are just fulfilled by their profession. These guys are the greatest, and that trickles down to the staff, to me. I shouldn’t say this, but I have so much fun, I don’t even care if I get paid, I love working here so much.”
The other doctors credit Weiswasser, who in his earlier life toured professionally with a band called Gas House Gorillas, for encouraging them to dust off their guitars and rediscover their inner Eddie Van Halens.
“We used to jam a bit, but when Weiswasser joined the practice, he kind of got us organized,” says Elkwood, who also plays banjo and keyboards. “He’s the real deal.”
“I was a little hesistant at first, because I hadn’t picked up the guitar in a little while,” says Kaufman, 39, of Rumson, a plastic surgeon and head and neck specialist. “Having the motivation of having a performance is what brought back the spark, and then I really got into it and really got back to the technical aspects of playing.”
“Rehearsal is fun. Like when you get a groove going, and the music sounds good, that’s awesome,” adds Rose. “But playing (on stage), and having that groove, and hearing the crowd respond and be excited and dance, there’s nothing like that.
“That’s like a drug that keeps you coming back for more,” he says.
“You better pick another metaphor,” interjects Elkwood. They are doctors, after all.
“It’s like … a fun thing,” Rose deadpans.
All of the members of Cell Division grew up playing in garage bands. Rose’s music career extended into college, where he played in a band called Jello Welcome. (There’s a story behind that.) For Elkwood, though, the summit of his early days as a rocker was performing with his band at his high school’s “spring fling.”
“That’s pretty weak,” he says sheepishly.
So on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the spring fling and 10 being something really rather extraordinary, winning that first battle of the bands competition would probably be about an 11.
The doctors, who play with a changing cast of supporting musicians, had a little help. The rules of the competition stated that each band had to have at least one doctor, but there was no mention of any prohibition against using a ringer.
The members of Cell Division took full advantage of that loophole, enlisting the services of Weiswasser’s friend, the famed rock guitarist Earl Slick, who played with David Bowie and John Lennon.
“We play ‘Rebel, Rebel’ by Bowie, and that’s him,’’ Elkwood says of Slick. “We joke around, saying ‘Earl, take that again, we think you flubbed it.’ So that’s really a treat.’’
The band won the event – twice – raising about $20,000 in the process for the Cancer Support Community Central New Jersey, a Bedminster-based charity.
The band’s changing supporting cast also has included Point Pleasant native Antonella Barba, an “American Idol” finalist in the sixth season.
As busy as these doctors are with their careers, families and other outside pursuits, playing together on a regular basis is logistically difficult, they say. But Cell Division has no plans on splitting up anytime soon.
They’ve tasted rock ’n’ roll glory, and they’re hungry for more, with the goal of raising money to help underinsured patients who seek treatment at their Center for the Treatment of Paralysis and Reconstructive Nerve Surgery at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.
“The bar was packed,” Rose says, recalling the band’s first show two years ago.
“Everyone was pretty much a suburbanite mom or dad, but for a little while,” he says, “we were back in college again.”