The Presidential Search


Leonard Zwelling

The Search Advisory Committee for the new president of MD Anderson has been named. Please see link above for official memo.

There are no surprises there except for the distinct absence of a medical oncologist on the list. There are two clinicians named at least. I guess we should be grateful for small favors.

As with most such committees, this one will consist of people who, once their choice is made, can walk away from the consequences. This does not include the members of the MD Anderson community who will serve including a few executives, but my guess is that many of the current executives will be in the running for the job. Whether they should be or not is for these people to decide.

The real question is not who is on the committee, but what this committee is looking for and whether or not this will be made public so that suggestions from the community at large can come in without needing to be funneled through one of the members of the committee via a cocktail party.

I am going to suggest that Executive Vice Chancellor Greenberg work with the named search firm to develop a complete job description and make that public as soon as possible. Then there ought to be an open comment period of about 60 days during which a web site should be established to take in the suggestions of the public as to who might fulfill the job description. When that period is over, then, and only then, should the committee meet with the search firm to deliberate from the choices keeping firmly in mind that if none of the names fulfills the goals of the search that the open suggestion period be extended until at least three or four truly GREAT candidates are found who fulfill the criteria for the job.

It was obvious from the list of three finalists last time that the period of deliberation by the last search and search advisory committees was inadequate. None of the final three were prepared to take on what was facing MD Anderson in 2011 and the situation is far worse now. The financial boat is rumored to be righting itself, but the pressures of the health care industrial complex on academic centers will not abate in the next few years as the tussle between the forces of ObamaCare and those of the free market wrestle to see who will promote the single payer system fastest. There are far more competitors in the market place and the entire MD Anderson marketing strategy needs a retooling and overhaul. It is likely that NIH funding will not increase significantly, although the Trump tax cuts could up philanthropy, I guess. There is still the problem of rebuilding most of the clinical science at Anderson and finding new leadership in many key positions not the least of which are on the administrative side.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for any new president will be restoring the integrity of the office and the offices reporting to him or her and to articulate a clear strategy for success going forward. Will the push for commercialization still be prominent or will MD Anderson return its focus to patient care? Will the franchising all over the world go on or will the excellence at 1515 be restored to its former brilliance? And what is the future of basic science at Anderson? Will applied science dominate or will basic science still be respected, promoted and supported? And what is the future of education there? What about health policy as it applies to the cancer problem? Will prevention really take its rightful place of equality with treatment and diagnostics or remain an after thought? And what about ascertaining the rightful benefit of new technology before charging a fortune for its use?

The people listed in the memo from the UT System are the ones most in control of this process initially. They can either decide to close or open the search to the greater community that cares about MD Anderson.

Let’s see what they do.

Leonard Zwelling