Happy Holidays, But What Have You Done?


Happy Holidays, But What Have You Done?


Leonard Zwelling

On December 16, just before Hannukah, Peter Pisters released his year-end message to MD Anderson by email. It was sent to me by an anonymous blog reader. To say it is full of platitudes would be an insult to platitudes.

It is so non-specific and full of business school psychobabble that I have to take it slowly lest I gag.

He calls the doctors, nurses and clinical care staff “teammates.” Is he running a hospital or a soccer team in honor of the World Cup? These are supposed to be health care professionals. The doctors hate being called providers. I don’t think they would like being called teammates any better unless they get jerseys in UT colors with their names across the back, and no-cut contracts.

He celebrates his five years in office and notes “we make great things happen.” Then names none. At a cancer center, great things over five years have names like new treatments, new research breakthroughs, and new star recruits. Name these.

Of course, what he does identify as an accomplishment in “cultural evolution” is the emphasis on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” He’s got that right, but neglects to add quality. He’s assembled a very diverse leadership team, but is it any good? He doesn’t say. What has each one of his teammates accomplished in 2022 or even in five years? Again, silence.

He says we “hold ourselves accountable,” but who holds him accountable? Certainly not the Board of Regents that allows him to run the number one place for cancer care (so far) as if it was a branch of Canyon Ranch, where feeling good is more important than being good, unless, of course, Pisters decides you’ve been naughty and that’s not nice.

He claims a commitment to safety. Again, he cites no data. Surely this can be measured. Fewer adverse events in clinical trials? Fewer work-related injuries? Fewer untoward events on the in-patient floors? What’s the metric of safety? Of course, tenure used to be a measure of safety, but since Dr. Pisters has weaponized professionalism, even tenure does not provide a safety net.

His measure of “value-based leadership” is “investment in critical programming for our leaders.” That’s input. What’s the output from these leaders? What have they accomplished? I’ll wager very little or you would have heard about it in a campus-wide newsletter in your email or tweeted to you at midnight. The Leadership Institute ought to have some metrics that substantiate the claim of excellence. What are they? Where’s the transparency there?

Pisters goes on to claim “transparency and professionalism” yet the one thing he is not transparent about is the reasons he fires faculty for lack of professionalism. That’s not a reason. That’s an excuse.

And if he really has a strategy, shouldn’t he have indicated how it was successful? Name at least one accomplishment that has affected the natural history of cancer in the past five years at Anderson and for which you strategically planned, Dr. Pisters. Surely there must be plenty, but is that what Pisters touts? No. How has his plan been successful? What’s the metric?

I am very sorry. This sort of nonsense cannot be tolerated in a leader. Even our national politicians pretend to enumerate the good they have done. Dr. Pisters thinks that’s beneath him.

This end-of-year message is an insult to the faculty and staff of MD Anderson. They deserve better. They deserve a real list of accomplishments and also honesty about where the leadership might have fallen short.

I went to business school. I have an MBA. I have been trained to recognize psychobabble when I hear or read it, although we called it something else in business school. That’s what this message is and says a lot about the author.

Photon. All energy. No mass.

No mas, Dr. Pisters, no mas.

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