What Do I Want FROM MD Anderson? What Do I Want FOR MD Anderson?

By

Leonard Zwelling

I ask myself these questions every day. I have since I left my employment at Anderson after 29 years in September of 2013.

One of the things that I have discussed with others who have left leadership roles at Anderson is how their status was so ephemeral. One minute you are the leader and decision-maker. The next, you are out. Surely there must be a better way to occasion transitions. Change is always going to be necessary in great organizations, but the abrupt change that so characterized the DePinho years simply terrorized everyone. One of the real metrics of Dr. Pisters having instigated meaningful improvement in the culture of MD Anderson will be a far more humane manner in which necessary transitions of leadership are made. I think that is already the case.

I also think that there ought to be a little more acknowledgement of leaders who have made significant contributions to Anderson, some outside the realm of typical academic pursuits. Leading a department or division well often means basking in reflected glory and not shining the spotlight on oneself. This talent is rarely rewarded. My first boss at Anderson, Irv Krakoff, was magnificent at this. He was always making sure all those around him got the credit for their achievements. This is a mark of mature leadership and ought to be celebrated in some way, possibly as the leader moves to a new endeavor. That used to be the case at the annual “Prom” that celebrated retirees. Maybe a few of those awards at Convocation ought to go to those who make the trains run on time. It’s not glamorous and it will attract no accolades, but those who serve the infrastructure of MD Anderson are as critical to the success of the institution as those doing the patient care and research are.

As for me personally, all I want from MD Anderson is for it to be a beacon of light in the sea of darkness that American health care has become. I believe that it still is. There is a lot of hurt that has come down on the people who work at Anderson over the past 20 years or so. Most of it was unnecessary and based on hubris and greed. I truly believe that those days are gone, but in their place must be a new culture. That’s what I wish to get FROM MD Anderson. The new dawn of progress against cancer without the outrageous claims or the mean-spirit that so characterized the place in recent years.

What I want FOR MD Anderson is to put itself out of business. That, unfortunately, is not yet likely despite claims of five-year cancer eradication time lines by some past leadership.

It is more likely that the battle to decrease the death rate and suffering from cancer will be a long one with incremental victories. I want MD Anderson to lead those victories as it has for 75 years.

But what I want more than anything, is that that new dawn is fully felt by everyone who works at Anderson and who seeks its help in the future. All cancer medicine is personal. It’s as precise as can be and getting better all the time.

That’s what I would like from and for Anderson. It does now seem possible

Leonard Zwelling