The
Common Message of Duke Medical School and the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Don’t Be
Common

By

Leonard
Zwelling

      I am being challenged yet again.

      Throughout my tenure as a vice president
at MD Anderson, I was confronted with hostility. This is the nature of
administration and being a leader within it. The faculty hated my use of the
federal code to limit some of the practices that had arisen at Anderson
surrounding the performance of clinical research. My boss, John Mendelsohn,
resented my having to put limits on some of the things he wanted to do,
including interrogating the cancer tissue of every patient who came to Anderson
without first obtaining consent. HIPAA precludes this without a protocol
addressing the specific research question being asked. Fishing expeditions in
the cancer gene pool are not permitted.

      Many of you know that I am neither
soft-spoken nor subtle. I do rub people the wrong way at times, especially when
I am overly righteous (not one of my better traits). For better or for worse,
for 9 years, I was one of the research cops and no one likes the cops,
righteous, right or otherwise. As I learned from Joel Osteen: “if you’re right
and you’re rude, you are wrong!” I just learned it a little too late.

      Many days, especially early in my tenure
in 1995 and 1996, I surely was depressed. I did not know how to keep afloat in
a roiling sea of hostility. This was also before I had put together the Office
of Research Administration as it came to be known. It was just the Office of
Protocol Research then and contained me and a few others, none of whom I had
hired and none of who managed to make the transition with me to the
organization that Dr. Brunelli and I eventually grew. It was lonely. The only
support I had from the environment came from those faculty members who believed
in what I was trying to do (thank you all) and, of course, from my family.

      But I had a secret weapon I had acquired
many years before and have only recently learned that it was a weapon shared by
my fellow Jews who follow the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And it is a
weapon that is to be passed forward. So here it goes.

I have been reading a new book by Joseph Telushkin
called Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most
Influential Rabbi in Modern History.  It
is scheduled for publication next month and I was asked to review it. I am
still reading as it is well over 400 pages in length. It is more an
impressionistic portrait than a photograph of the most important Jewish figure
of the 20th century. His disciples have spread throughout the world
from what I call Mission Control in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The Chabad or Lubavitchers
spread the word of Judaism to Jews of lesser Orthodoxy, but they do it in the
most kindly of manners and always meeting every Jew where that Jew currently
stands in relationship to his or her religion.

This spreading of the word all over the world was
part of the genius of the Rebbe. Often it is said that the Rebbe has followers
all over the world. This is not quite accurate. What the Rebbe spawned, and
which continues to grow long after his death 20 years ago, is not a community
of followers. He built a network of leaders. His disciples are thoroughly
integrated into the communities the Rebbe sent them to serve and have become
major Jewish lights among their fellow Jews. The Rebbe does not make followers.
He makes leaders.

Interesting enough, early in my first year at Duke
Medical School, the Associate Dean of Admissions, the man who held the key to
the door at Duke Medical School, the late, great Suydam Osterhout said to us
all, “at Duke we don’t make cookies. We make cookie cutters.” And we believed
it. And he was right!

Whether it was the darkest days of my medical
internship, or the first nights awake in Building10 in Bethesda caring for
dying cancer patients or the first time I had to take a call from the FDA about
misbehaving faculty at Anderson or worse, a call from the Chronicle about
misbehavior of an MD Anderson executive, I had to lean on that lesson from Dr.
Osterhout, echoed in the teachings of the Rebbe. Be a leader. What to do is
within you. Find it.

I am in it again. I am currently charged with
helping an organization grow and adapt to a rapidly changing health care
environment. Once again I have to lean on the lessons of Duke and the lessons
of the Rebbe. Be a leader. Take responsibility. Help others find their voices
to lead as well.

I believe that each of the academic leaders at
Anderson is being challenged as I am, especially those in the clinical
divisions. Will you lead by example and stand for what you believe? Is quality
care what is important to you or is patient volume, RVUs and billables the
measure of success for MD Anderson? Your challenge is mine. Your metric of
leadership is mine.

Be a cookie cutter. Don’t just do it for the dough! 

Leonard Zwelling