Peter, Peter, He’s Our Man. If He Can’t Do It, No One Can


Peter, Peter, He’s Our Man. If He Can’t Do It, No One Can


Leonard Zwelling

You know that your ego is about to explode all over an institution when you have to solicit votes for a meaningless poll to identify the 50 most influential clinical executives in America. The poll is run by the healthcare executive business magazine (no, it’s no journal), Modern Healthcare.

The list for this year can be found at the web site above. You will notice two familiar names—Patrick Hwu of Moffit Cancer Center (formerly of MD Anderson) and the one and only Dr. Peter Pisters, current president of MD Anderson. You can now go to the web site and vote for your favorites. Apparently, it cost $150 to get your name on the list, so someone sprung for the big bucks for Dr. Pisters. I wonder who.

You have to be impressed with Dr. Pisters’ tenacity in trying to elevate himself and the institution in these external polls of clinical, diversity, and patient satisfaction excellence. The problem is that none of these things reflects the care administered at Anderson, the excellence of the clinical research, or the culture of the place as experienced by the faculty and staff. As for this latter issue, I’d say the culture at Anderson may be at an all-time low. But fear not, once Dr. Pisters weeds out all of the unprofessional faculty (defined as those with big salaries and bigger opinions), he will have a complacent, complicit and altogether pithed group of supporters who will gladly vote for him in the poll.

People, I think the president is losing sight of the mission. It is not the mission of MD Anderson to be first in a bunch of extraneous, external polls about which no one cares but the executives vying for the honors. The mission is to eradicate cancer. That is done through exemplary clinical care, cutting-edge research, caring educational instruction, and an emphasis on cancer prevention. None of these is reflected in these useless charades of excellence purporting to matter to patients and referring doctors. Patients and referring doctors care about the three A’s—ability, availability, and affability, not just the third.

The one thing that I can be quite certain of is that Dr. Pisters only influences those over whom he reigns and those who he pays. To be an influential leader as were Mickey LeMaistre, R. Lee Clark, and John Mendelsohn, you actually have to accomplish something, not just talk about accomplishing something. I know that Dr. Mendelsohn could get in front of an auditorium full of faculty and answer questions without being prepped with the questions beforehand. Drs. Clark, LeMaistre, and Mendelsohn could also make decisions without the use of lawyers and a public relations team.

It is no secret that I believe that MD Anderson has been largely free of good leadership since 2001. The institution is slipping towards mediocrity, a regression to the mean, and it is happening because the critical energy supplied by good leadership to prevent institutional entropy is sorely lacking. And it won’t be restored because Dr. Pisters is one of the 50 most influential clinical executives. It might be with new leadership that is truly visionary and somewhat knowledgeable in all the mission areas MD Anderson covers. Not just one. Maybe.

Did you know? Dr. Zwelling’s new book “Conflict of Interest” becomes available Spring 2023. Check for the latest on this book and information on how you can purchase a copy. Copies are now available at

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