Tradition Is Everything


Tradition Is Everything


Leonard Zwelling

I spent a recent weekend at Duke Medical Center. The BW (Beautiful Wife aka Dr. Kleinerman) is on the Medical Alumni Council for the medical school and we got basketball tickets to the first game of the year on Monday night, November 7. (Of course, Duke won!)

I was able to attend many of the events over the weekend which is also Medical Alumni Weekend. One theme overwhelms all others. Duke means excellence.

All of us who have ever gone to school or trained there in any capacity were indoctrinated with the idea that our personal behavior, our careers, our achievements reflect on the greater Duke community and that community is dedicated to excellence in all things—from medicine to basketball.

MD Anderson used to have an annual banquet that highlighted its excellence. We called it the Prom, but it really was a black-tie dinner that celebrated the careers of the newly retired. They received their retirement portraits then. They were roasted and gave speeches of gratitude. It reminded everyone of the faculty what MD Anderson excellence is about.

I know that world is gone. The Prom is no more once the Houston Post got a hold of the cost of it and that it was funded by the revenues from the Physicians Referral Service. I miss it.

At Duke, the Medical Alumni Weekend serves the same function of celebrating a series of awardees—current faculty and graduates who have excelled (the BW received one of these a few years back)—and reminding all those in attendance of their personal responsibility to maintain Duke excellence for the next generation of trainees and students. And it always works. Works being defined as being inspirational, donation-generating, and providing a feeling of oneness among all those who participate. Duke is great. Giants made it so. Giants continue to do so. Everyone has a part to play to continue the tradition.

MD Anderson could use a little of that. Actually, it could use a lot of it. There were once giants at MD Anderson. Are there any today besides Jim Allison?

There simply must be some cognizance on the part of the MD Anderson leadership of the past greatness and what made it possible. It was not uniformity of behavior, outside counsels, or awards for a diverse workforce. It was great clinical care, cutting edge research, and above all landmark clinical investigation.

If Dr. Pisters wants us to take him seriously, he needs to start taking the past seriously. He didn’t get to run the number one place for cancer care on his own, but he sure can take it down a notch on his own with the help of those around him.

Go read about how MD Anderson came to be and became the number one place for cancer care. Then, tell us how you will continue the great tradition. Or in this case, start it up again.

It is clear to me from my interactions with a number of current faculty that what was once MD Anderson pride has faded. I assure you it has not faded at Duke both because of and despite of various leaders over the years. Duke was always about the faculty, the students, and the alumni.

MD Anderson would do well to refocus on faculty excellence, extending that excellence with great training, and honoring alumni who have made an impact on the world of cancer care. The Faculty Convocation is a start thanks to the Faculty Senate. What has the leadership done for the tradition lately? Or even over the last twenty years?

MD Anderson has been through a long stretch of poor leadership. Conflict of interest, self-dealing, and administrative nonsense have supplanted what was once a sterling culture as the gem of the UT System. It’s time to get a real physician-scientist with oncology credentials leading the cancer center again. The sooner, the better.

7 thoughts on “Tradition Is Everything”

  1. Great post. Highly perceptive and thoughtful.

    I would recommend that you include all past Senate chairs on your distribution list (sadly, Dr. Freireich is no longer with us) as well as the current ECFS membership. Also movers and shakers that have had the courage to speak to their concerns at Senate meetings. Incidentally, how did you construct your current distribution list? Is it static or dynamic? If the latter, what is the mechanism for identifying and adding new recipients? Does the list include MDA department chairs and division heads? How about senior administration members? Board of Visitors members? UT System figureheads? Or are these issues too sensitive to address?

    1. I have no list. At the bottom of the page, there is a box into which you can type your email and then you will get notifications of each new post. I do not send to anyone any longer. They have to go get it. Seems more courteous to me. LZ

      1. Yeah, courtesy is nice but scores few points in today’s political world. By limiting your blog posts to those who voluntarily provide their emails, you are largely preaching to the converted. Under these circumstances, your well-founded commentaries on MD Anderson administration are lost on those who are in the best position to effective positive change. It would be good if a mechanism can be identified to relay your commentaries to such individuals.

          1. If I had the email list, I guess I could send it to anyone, but I am not sure forcing my views on people is wise or even good politics. I have been pleased with the number who do read it and they must be telling their friends. However, I am not opposed to sending the link to people and letting them decide for themselves whether to read the blog. How could we generate such a list? LZ

  2. Good question. I don’t have the answer at hand but will certainly give it a lot of thought. Wish the faculty senate newsletter, the Sentinel (which I started when senate chair back in 1998), was still in print. It was widely read by both faculty and administration, and contained many hard-hitting pieces. As I recall, you wrote a couple of excellent articles for it yourself. If resuscitated, a link to your blog could be given marked prominence. As I said, I’ll give it more thought.

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