Concerned? Worried? What’s The Right Word?


Leonard Zwelling

My good friend told me using the word “concerned” is a bad idea when what I really mean is “worried.”

I have now been present for four interactions with the new president of MD Anderson.

The first was his initial address to the faculty which I thought was fantastic in its humanness. It conveyed a sense of personal approachability that has not been seen in the MD Anderson presidency in many years. How refreshing!

The second was at the convocation at which Dr. Pisters gave essentially the same speech he gave when he addressed the faculty the first time. It was filled with modesty and statements about how excellent the faculty is and how much he has to learn from them. Fine.

After that speech, I reintroduced myself for encounter number three. This was one-on-one. I gave him my card and said that if he ever needed anything to go ahead and give me a call.

Encounter four was at a Christmas party at which all the invited guests had nametags. We (meaning the BW, certainly not me) had been last minute invitees as the hostess personally asked Genie to come. The Development Office and Division of Pediatrics seemed to have left Genie off the list. Thus, Genie and I did not have nametags. As we were leaving we stopped by to say hello to Dr. Pisters. We had already chatted with his wife Kathy who I knew well when I was still at Anderson.

It is obvious that Peter Pisters had no idea who we were and Genie quickly realized this and reintroduced ourselves. (The curse of the absent nametag). He once again told us how much he has to learn from the excellent faculty.

OK. We get your drift. But what are you going to DO?

Just as the American presidency transfers to the newly inaugurated election victor at noon on January 20 the year after the November election, the presidency of MD Anderson belongs to Dr. Pisters now. He simply has to have a plan beyond “we’ll see.”

I am fully cognizant that he is drinking from a fire hose. I once had to do that as well and it was a much smaller hose in my case, but exuding confidence and being able to convey some sense of understanding of the job and what your plans are is an important part of being president. And one must be ready to do that on day one.

It is time for us to hear what Dr. Pisters intends to do just as a good US Presidential inaugural address does and so is remembered for its words and vision for the future. “Ask not” still rings in the ears of my generation. If Dr. Pisters just put the onus on each faculty and staff member to do his or her best, that would be better than to place himself in the mode of a willing student when he is now the principal.

I, for one, want to know where MD Anderson is going. Is it to be a great local cancer center and hub of innovation or is it going to be an international giant of cancer care delivery competing with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and the Mayo Clinic? What role will research play and is the current research leadership up to the challenge? How will prevention and population-based science fit in and what will the role of MD Anderson be in the Houston community? What is the strategy? Is cancer really surrounded? Is history being made?

Where is MD Anderson going and who is leading it? It’s time for an introductory statement. Call it an inaugural address. But do it. Give the world a game plan. Even DePinho did that even if he was playing a different game than the other 20,000 people at Anderson in 2011.

Once you have identified your game, then pick your team. Who you choose will say as much about you as it does about a US President who picks his cabinet. Will your team have all-stars or Ben Carsons? Inquiring minds want to know.

Leonard Zwelling