Leonard Zwelling

Apparently the leaders of MD Anderson are continuing the expansion of the brand to all regions of Houston. This suggests that the strategy of franchising the MD Anderson name will continue. I say suggests because other than the commercial that states “Cancer, we have you surrounded,” it is pretty tough to be sure exactly what the business model for the cancer center really is.

Rather than debate the wisdom of the business model, let’s discuss the wisdom of telling the world what you are really doing. Let’s use the word that is so popular around Washington these days—transparency. As in there is no transparency surrounding the Senate’s plan for health care, how it will handle the House version of the bill, and what it will really mean for those who have gained insurance through ObamaCare and especially those getting the benefits of Medicaid including coverage for nursing home use. I am writing this on June 21, the day before the Senate is supposed to unveil its health care bill, so stay tuned. By the time Congress returns from their ill-timed July Fourth weekend, everything will probably change.

The transparency I would like to touch upon now is that which may or may not characterize the Regents’ plan for MD Anderson.

In 1996, it was clear from the choice of president then that the Regents were seeking a physician-scientist with both clinical and research accomplishment who not only would accelerate the quality of science at MD Anderson but also would use the results of research toward commercial purposes. By 1996, the effects of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Amendment on academic medicine had taken hold and the corporatization of academia was accelerating. Not wanting to be left behind, the Regents chose a leader with a drug, a company and a vision. That worked out for a while, but then came Enron and ImClone and, well, you know the rest.

So what did the Regents do next in 2011? They doubled down. They chose a leader with no clinical credentials at all, but with many companies to his name and many to his wife’s name as well. We know how that turned out. Not well.

So this time, in 2017, I think it would be reasonable for the larger MD Anderson community and for the MD Anderson faculty in particular to request of the Regents, before they make their selection of finalists for the MD Anderson job, what the heck they are trying to do and why. Now that would constitute some transparency.

I have little hope that the regental Regents would ever do such a thing. First, I doubt they really know what they want so cannot be transparent about it. Second, I am quite sure that if past behavior is an indicator, the Regents feel no obligation to let the rest of the world in on their decision making process. That’s too bad because they could learn a lot from the MD Anderson faculty let alone the Board of Visitors (okay, they may consult the BOV on the country club golf course), and the patients of Anderson.

I think the Regents ought to come forward with a statement that outlines what they are looking for in a president for MD Anderson and what they expect that person to do once installed.

And if the Regents don’t really know, which is likely the case, they might consider using a bit of transparency when making their decisions like:

1. Publishing the list of all applicants—now.
2. Then listing the top ten whom they will interview, if that many.
3. When they get to between three and five, there should be a public presentation by each potential leader that is not about their prior work in the lab, but about their vision for MD Anderson and how they plan to implement it. Why should that be a secret until it’s too late?

These are just some ideas for greater transparency surrounding the selection process for MD Anderson president.

What, you say? You don’t think this would help? It would have last time. All they had to do was ask anyone in Boston.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *