Only Job I Ever Loved, and Giving It Up
Ten years ago today, I resigned from the
only job I ever loved.
On the morning of June 23, 2004, I eliminated
the position of Associate Vice President for Research Administration that was
occupied by Dr. Carleen Brunelli. I relinquished all oversight of the clinical
research infrastructure to Dr. Markman and limited the functions of my office
to all those parts of my job as VP for Research Administration that did not
involve clinical research. The clinical research quality office, the clinical
research information system I had built from the original efforts of Irv
Krakoff, Susan Welch and Martha Matza and the entire IRB, CRC, PDMS and PDOL
system that is still in operation today but which Dr. Brunelli and I developed
was out of my life. The people weren’t and some still work at Anderson today. I
am very proud of what we did together and what they continue to do to serve the
That morning was the natural culmination
of a sequence of events that had begun in an unassuming fashion when some
leftover experimental drugs were returned to the IRB office following a
patient’s death and my office began to get reports of actions within one of the
departments in the Division of Cancer Medicine that necessitated a review of
that department’s research infrastructure and the eventual findings of
short-comings of a significant enough nature that they led to an FDA site visit,
a presidential Blue Ribbon Committee, a report from that committee that cited
my office for at least overzealousness if not out right heavy-handedness and
the realization that I was no longer effective at supporting this important
mission area at MD Anderson. Dr. Kripke had other tasks for me. I was anxious
to do these and frankly burnt out from overseeing clinical research for 9
years. Dr. Mendelsohn was in a difficult situation with me in this position
having hired Dr. Markman to advocate for the clinical investigators and it was
clear to me that my time to lead this endeavor was over. I did not have mural
dyslexia so I walked away.
Within three years, I was tossed aside as
so often happens in large organizations like Anderson and the next thing I knew
I was working on Capitol Hill. Man plans and God laughs. Indeed.
But the real lesson of the day was given
to me by a close friend a month earlier.
Throughout the prior three years I had
grown more and more depressed at work. I had been through coronary artery
by-pass surgery. During my six weeks away recovering, I thought my office had
functioned well, but others disagreed. The cacophony to alter my office
personnel was growing louder from the Executive Suite and though I resisted
these suggestions, the pressure to change my office’s manner of business was
My state of mind had grown so bad, that I
sought the help of a therapist. I was that one vice president on the list of
those seeking help from the Faculty Assistance Program. Eventually, that work
led to Miraval, a rehab center and resort in Arizona where my therapist thought
I might benefit from working with some horses.
Horses have three important
characteristics that make them of great therapeutic utility. First, they are
social animals that live in groups in the wild and thus are sensitive to other
sentient beings around them. They are strong and will not do what you want them
to do just because you want them to do it. Finally, they live in the present
moment. No yesterday. No tomorrow. They live in the now. If you want them to do
what you want them to do, you too must live in the now, something we humans are
not very good at.
I learned to move a horse with one finger
by being present with that horse. During the debriefing following that horse
therapy session, I looked around me at the other members of my therapy group.
They were all addicts. Drugs, alcohol, and sex mostly. What was I doing among
these addicts? Answer: I was right at home for I had the worst addiction of
all. I was addicted to Gold
Stars—accomplishment. I was an achievaholic. It is the worst addiction because
unlike the others upon which society frowns, all those around an achievaholic
will encourage him or her to feed his or her addiction and constantly do more.
There was no Betty Ford clinic for achievaholics. Academic medicine was where
they all went instead.
Upon returning from Arizona, I had lunch
with this friend who said to me:
“Why do you keep doing what you don’t
like to do?”
The next week was June 23, 2004 and the
rest I describe above.
I write this looking back on the past ten
years with immense fondness. It is not many people who get to grow as much as I
have in the past 10 years at my age. I could not have done it anywhere else but
MD Anderson. I just want you all to know that. There are diseases just as
malignant as cancer that can befall someone and MD Anderson is as good at
improving the patient’s chances of recovery from these malignant diseases as from
the more obvious ones.
Thank you John Mendelsohn for allowing me
to go to Washington and Margaret Kripke, Dave Hohn and Nate Berger for helping
me get there. Thanks to my family for putting up with this nonsense in a
putative grown-up. But mostly, thank you to the faculty and staff of MD
Anderson who made the trip both possible and necessary. Ten years. What a long,
strange trip it’s been!