What I Heard At The Faculty Honors Convocation

What I Heard At The Faculty Honors Convocation


Leonard Zwelling

On Thursday afternoon, May 11, the Faculty Honors Convocation took place, in-person only for the first time since Covid, at the Zayed Auditorium on the MD Anderson campus. Faculty honors were given out to five worthy recipients in the areas of Basic Science, Clinical Research, Cancer Prevention, Education, and Patient Care. The awardees’ accomplishments were impressive and very gratifying to see for this old faculty member. Clearly excellence in academic oncology is in good hands at Anderson and with the Anderson faculty.

The LeMaistre Award was also given to a truly deserving recipient with years of unfailing service to MD Anderson. That is Dr. Robert Bast for his many accomplishments in basic research, patient care, education and training, and, perhaps, most important of all, his unparalleled stewardship of the National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant for many grant cycles. No one can do core grant writing better than Bob.

But it was three speeches this day that most attracted my attention.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Mary Klotman, the Dean of Duke Medical School and (full disclosure) a friend of our family. It was the BW who asked her to give the address and Dr. Klotman knocked it out of the park addressing with great candor the challenges facing faculty and leadership in academic medicine as everyone recovers from Covid, but has not gone into complete remission just yet. She forthrightly discussed faculty burnout, what Duke is doing about it, what academic studies have been done to address this issue, and why it is so important to face this challenge immediately, systemically, and locally at every medical institution.

Dr. Klotman had done her homework pointing out the recent academic accomplishments of a host of MD Anderson faculty. She was impressive in enumerating the many achievements of the MD Anderson physicians and scientists.

Dr. Klotman’s remarks were echoed by Faculty Senate Chair Dr. Bella Glitza who also noted the effect of faculty burnout on patient care and academic productivity. Dr. Glitza urged the Anderson leadership to review the burnout data accumulated by the Senate and seriously re-review the needs of the faculty, suggesting that this responsibility of the leadership still has not been adequately addressed.

From both of these women came great observations and concern about the well-being of faculty in this age of constant stressors whether that be patient loads, the electronic medical record, complex personal lives, or the myriad of administrative tasks that seem to flow to faculty that Dr. Glitza termed “everything else.” What I took that to mean is the work that is not the real academic work that the administration presses on the busy faculty.

I contrast these excellent remarks with those of MD Anderson President Peter Pisters who spoke in platitudes about his accomplishments listing none of the faculty’s. His high marks had to do with rankings by external judges of patient care excellence. These surveys are no match for the real scientific and clinical feats of the flesh and blood faculty, none of which he seemed to be able to cite. His speech may well have been written by ChatGPT after the AI was asked to “give me ten minutes on me.” Dr. Klotman gave the speech that Dr. Pisters should have given.

Fortunately, Dr. Pisters’ lackluster, dispassionate, and unanimated performance did not detract from the celebratory nature of the occasion. It is great to have the Convocation back live and a worthy celebration of that unique asset of MD Anderson—its faculty.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:


on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at: https://bookstore.dorrancepublishing.com/conflict-of-interest-money-drives-medicine-and-people-die-pb/

2 thoughts on “What I Heard At The Faculty Honors Convocation”

  1. So pleased to hear that Mary Klotman “hit it out of the park.” She has been an extraordinary Dean at Duke.
    Burnout is an interesting current problem in medicine. The causes are obviously complex, and I wonder how our generation would have handled the complexity. Maybe, we did and just plowed our way forward as our parents had exemplified in the Great Depression and WWII. That is what professionalism requires.
    Leadership is so essential in helping faculty to be appreciated, eliminating unnecessary BS administrative requirements, and sharing the stress and strain in their own lives. Sometimes I sense that administrative physicians have lost touch with the reality of being a clinical physician, a basic researcher, or an educator. They also have shot into a higher stratosphere of income, far exceeding other physicians and perhaps driving the current economic “caste” system of medicine.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      I agree with all of that. Dr. Klotman has not forgotten any of her past lives. That’s why she is so effective.

      We did just plow through. I was as burned out as anyone after my seven weeks as an Osler Ward intern at Duke, but that was too bad.

      I appreciate what the current docs have to go through, but it’s fixable. Step one, revise the EMR to make it doctor and patient friendly instead of an extension of the billing office. Step two, let the administrators administrate and stop asking the docs to do clerical work.

      These are not new problems. Today’s younger doctors want something more out of life than we did. They may well have a lot to teach us. And they could, if they could ever get out of the clinic.

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