What I Miss Most About Being A Vice President

What I Miss Most About Being A Vice President


Leonard Zwelling

A little history. I was appointed Associate Vice President of Clinical and Translational Research in March of 1995 by then Vice President of Patient Care David C. Hohn. Dr. Hohn later competed for the presidency of Anderson, lost out to Dr. Mendelsohn, and rapidly thereafter became president of the Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York where he had a distinguished tenure.

Over time, my little Office of Protocol Research went from administering the clinical trials apparatus to servicing the entire research infrastructure leading to my appointment as the Vice President for Research Administration in 2000. In that position I had to oversee the architectures and functions that supported the Institutional Review Board, the Clinical Research Committee, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the Biosafety Committee, the Conflict of Interest Committee, and the process for assessing allegations of research misconduct. I had to interact with the US Food and Drug Administration, the Office of Research Integrity, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, and the Office of Human Research Protections. It was a nice job. And I loved it.

I do not miss the thousands of memos, then emails I had to write or the bringing of bad news to a faculty member about an allegation of violations of research integrity, or even the lengthy tours of the animal facilities in Houston, Smithville, and Bastrop in a Tyvek gown.

No. The other day I was reminded of what I miss.

Due to the questionable activity of the current leadership of MD Anderson reported on this blog, I have been in contact with many faculty members. One called with a problem the other day. The faculty member started our phone call by saying it was good to hear my voice. It was also good for me to hear the voice of the faculty member. That faculty member related the problem. I just listened. I gave my advice and assured the faculty member that the course of action taken by the member was the right one. I also knew that I could have fixed the problem had I had my old job. It was being made into way more than it should have been—a common occurrence in the Pisters years. I thought DePinho woke up every morning thinking about how he was going to shoot himself in the foot. Pisters aims at more vital organs.

But what made me feel the tug of nostalgia was the fact that I was interacting with a great faculty member and that my opinion was valued. I miss that every day.

Early on in my administration as a vice president I realized that my contribution to MD Anderson was going to have to be making the job of the faculty easier. Every faculty member is faced with a huge administrative burden. The clinicians have to deal with the electronic medical record, the clinical trials process, the Code of Federal Regulations governing that process, the FDA, and the OHRP not to mention the Joint Commission and CMS and insurance companies. The research faculty have to contend with NIH grants, NSF grants, policies governing animal use in research, and a host of biosafety matters.

Everyone has to play by the conflict of interest rules (except Dr. DePinho when he ran the show) and of course research integrity can never be compromised.

My job was like that of BASF. I didn’t make the surf board. I made it better. I didn’t do the research or patient care. I tried to make navigating the regulatory barriers a little easier. And that gave me true joy. Nothing equaled solving a problem for a brilliant faculty member—something I was blessed to be able to do almost every week.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want my old job back. I could never function under this administration (or the last one) and I certainly would be hard pressed to bring the respect I had for Dr. Kripke and Dr. Hohn to the current group of senior leadership team members.

Yet—I miss being helpful. That’s what I miss the most.

Our mission statement in the Office of Research Administration was “service with a sense of urgency.” How’s that going now?

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