Woman Power For MD Anderson


Leonard Zwelling

The least the Regents can do up in Austin as they prepare to search for the next president of MD Anderson is make darned sure they don’t repeat the past mistakes.

What do I mean?

First, it would be helpful if those people in Austin responsible for choosing the next president understood what MD Anderson is and what ought to govern its direction.

Above all else, MD Anderson is a patient care organization. It is, I can’t believe I am saying this, a provider. MD Anderson delivers specialized health care that differentiates it from the health care that is delivered elsewhere. Its surgeons are unique in all the world for their innovation and skill. Its radiotherapists can bring every conceivable modality to bear on a malignancy amenable to high-energy physics. Its medical and pediatric oncologists are facile with the newest, most cutting edge ways to treat systemic cancer. Its pathologists and radiologists can see what others cannot and interpret and characterize malignant disease with singular skills. That is really what MD Anderson is. Sure, it would be nice to Make Cancer History, but that is not likely anytime soon, despite what Ron DePinho and Joe Biden think. Such talk is foolishness, aspirational but ultimately of no benefit to any patient.

Second, the core values are just that—core!

MD Anderson cares. MD Anderson discovers. MD Anderson does both and everything else with integrity. If MD Anderson is not doing that, it’s not doing its job. Under the last two administrations, these values came into question. They cannot any longer.

Third, that means that the future must break with the traditions that have crept into the Anderson way of life for the past fifteen or so years. Leaders must be beyond reproach. They don’t need to make seven-figure salaries. They need to be coherent, logical and transparent in their communications. None of these things has been the case for quite a while at 1515.

So I am going to make a suggestion that came to me and a colleague in a conversation we had about the future once Dr. DePinho’s fate was sort of sealed and his step down date was confirmed.

If you want to make a break with the dismal past, do so. Hire a woman to be the next president of MD Anderson.

She should be a real oncologist of some sort and have a full appreciation for what a cancer clinician does. She should know research. Clinical research would be preferred to basic science. I think we have had enough of the test tube type for several lifetimes. She should believe in the power of prevention and understand what a university does. She should have a working knowledge of current health care policy and be ready to participate in the arena of public affairs. Finally, she should be a hard-nosed, but considerate manager of people who other people actually trust and like.

Is that too much to ask? I think not.

Find that woman and when you do, you will have made the first step toward erasing some dismal memories of the past fifteen years.

You may wonder why a man cannot qualify for this job. He could, but I fear that most men who have punched all the tickets required of the next president have also acquired some unseemly personal characteristics that seem to emerge in association with Y-chromosomes—overt aggression, over-developed egocentricity bordering on narcissism, and the inability to see win-win as the desired outcome of disputes. Women are better at these things and these things are needed at 1515 yesterday.

A woman as the next president is just a better bet. It’s no sure thing, but as someone who has worked for and with both men and women, I’d go with the latter. Some of my best friends are women. In fact, my best friend is one. Right now, a woman is a surer thing to have the right stuff for MD Anderson.

Leonard Zwelling