Chapter 21: Retirement and Contributions

Title

Chapter 21: Retirement and Contributions

Files

Loading...

Media is loading
 

Description

Dr. Alexanian begins this chapter with an explanation of why he cut back his work schedule to two days a week for seven to eight years, taking full retirement in 2013. He lists the activities he participates in now, noting that he plays tournament bridge and holds the rank of Silver Life Master. Next Dr. Alexanian notes that he has made important contributions to medicine and his field as well as helping the institution evolve and become the leading cancer center in the world. He explains some of his reservations about the Moon Shots Program initiated under Ronald DePinho.

Identifier

Alexanian_R_02_20140605_S21

Publication Date

6-5-2014

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - View on Career and Accomplishments; Career and Accomplishments; Post Retirement Activities; Critical Perspectives; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Why did you decide to retire when you did in 2004?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Let’s see. First of all, my wife was after me for the previous five years to say, “Why are you continuing to work so hard?” So I don’t really work that hard. I never brought work home, except for writing, but I never brought any special work home. Then she pointed out, “You know, you’re working for nothing, because your retirement package gives you the same salary as if you worked.”

So I said, “I know that, but it keeps me busy.”

She said, “Oh, okay, well.”

Of course, I was periodically invited abroad and she would come with me to different places, and she liked that, and she was supportive of what I was doing. But then I think—let’s see. 2004?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I think I had a minor illness. I had a retinal hole that required surgery, successful, and that sort of set me back for maybe a month or so. Then I continued to write papers, as you saw my bibliography from ‘04 to last year, and so I wanted—I felt that I still had something to contribute that I wanted to keep writing about, and I was seeing a large number of patients, and my patients, many of them, were terrified I was going to retire. I tried to prepare them every year, “It could be.” Oh, they were terrified. Some of them even wrote to the president saying, “Please discourage him.” And so I just kept on going, writing the papers, coming in. I didn’t come in at eight o’clock. I took my time. I came in when I wanted to and went home when I wanted to.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Was this before 2004?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

2004.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

That was when I was part-time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

When you were part-time, okay. So in 2004, you went to part-time?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Part-time. Two days a week.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Okay, two days a week. And then how long did you stay on that schedule before you—

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Well, I retired last year.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, I didn’t know.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

It was about seven, eight years of two days.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, okay.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Isn’t there somewhere recorded?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Maybe. Maybe it is. Okay. I’m sorry I missed that.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Maybe it was 2005.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Okay. So 2004, you kind of went to like 20 percent time?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

There were about seven, eight years of that, of the two days a week.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Okay, and seven, eight years. Okay. So last year, you retired definitively.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Yeah, last—this is all I got. In fact, this is a story about it. Dr. Weber, who works with me, said, “We have a gift to give you.” So she handed me, at my ceremony, a computer.

I says, “I don’t need a computer, Donna.”

She says, “Well, the other choice was to have a watch.”

This was back in September. I says, “Well, I’d rather have the watch, because the one I have is wearing out.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Lovely watch.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

So then she said, “Well, there’s a watch I can’t give you now, because it has to be returned within seven days if you don’t like it.”

I says, “Okay.” So I said, “And I don’t know if I’m going to be here to see you exactly seven days, whether you have enough, because I’m here two days a week.”

So she put it off a long time. Finally, last week she gave me the watch.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That’s so funny. It’s a beautiful brushed-steel watch. Yeah.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

It’s a beautiful watch. Yeah, yeah.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

So I have to show it to her for the first time. [unclear] in a box, so I’m wearing it today.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yes, very nice.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

So I said, “I want a watch with a date, that keeps the right date.” And I don’t even know if it keeps—is it the right date, or is it off?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It’s the fifth. Nope, one day off.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

One day off, okay. So I’ll figure out how to fix this. Maybe there’s—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Nice gift.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

So do I have it right?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Let’s see.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I don’t have my glasses on.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Let’s see. Oh, that turns that one. Usually if you push it partway in, it turns. Oh, there it goes. There it goes. Oh, god.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

You got it?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Almost. There it goes.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I’m told you can only do it in the morning if you—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, okay. (laughs) So it’ll probably turn it.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

We’ll see what happens.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

We’ll see what happens, yeah.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

So that’s my little gift.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So for those seven, eight years—

Raymond Alexanian, MD

That was two days a week. I saw patients, wrote papers, went to conferences. I wasn’t on any committees.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What do you feel you accomplished during those seven or eight years?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I think that I helped the younger staff, especially Dr. Wang and Dr. Weber. She was already more established. I helped them in their work. And then I wrote a number of papers. I gave talks. I helped at conferences the management of lots of patients. That’s what I’m going to now. There’s six patients to be presented at noon.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Wow. And this is at Grand Rounds or—

Raymond Alexanian, MD

This is a myeloma patient presentation. You can come if you like.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, I can’t. (laughter) I would have been interested, but I can’t. (laughs)

Raymond Alexanian, MD

They just present difficult cases that they’re getting. So I find this fulfilling. I also enjoy my hobby, which I play a lot of tournament bridge.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, interesting.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

As you saw on my résumé, I’m what’s called a Silver Life Master, which is kind of moving up in the ranking.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And is that related to bridge?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Yeah, bridge, in bridge. And I play in tournaments three times a week here in Houston, and this weekend is a big, big tournament, and I find that interesting.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

How did you get interested in bridge? What’s that about?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I played a little bit in college and sort of enjoyed it. My mother taught me, and I never played much of it until the last, say, fifteen years with my wife, who then learned to play bridge, and she was my partner for many years. She’s also a Life Master.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What else are you doing with your retirement time?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Well, I go to the gym every day. I like to do lap swims, and I swim every day almost. Let’s see. I used to travel periodically several times a year. Sort of kind of cut that down to taking cruises several times a year, sort of the lazy way of traveling.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I like to go out to dinner. Let’s see. We have neighbors we visit with a lot. Come in here today.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Well, just on a slightly different tack, as you look back on the work that you did here at MD Anderson and are still doing, what do you feel you’ve left behind that you’re satisfied with, very content with?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I feel very fulfilled. I think I’ve made some important contributions to medicine and especially to my field. I have helped educate many young doctors. I’ve helped the institution evolve in several ways on committees and processing, and I feel comfortable that my role has contributed to this hospital to being a leading cancer center in the world. That’s why I want to keep it that way if I can, which I can’t, but if it happens that way, because it’s very competitive and nothing comes easy. You have to work hard. You have to study hard, work hard, put the energy in, put the thought in, educate younger people, get a team to work together, have them clash and work it out, fight it out, and then get things done.

Idleness—by “idleness” I mean just doing standard things—is easy to drift to, very easy to drift to, that you have to make a concerted effort to overcome that. I see less and less of that, not markedly less, but just a slow easing less. You don’t hear that, though?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Well, I guess it may be people are very caught up. I mean, I was just going to ask you your impression, for example of the Moon Shots Program, which is extremely ambitious.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Ambitious.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So to me, the message I’m getting is that there are ambitious things, but I don’t—what is your view of that particular approach to—

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Well, I think that it’s better to try something than not to try it, so I certainly endorse the concept. And if the resources are there, which I understand there are, from a benefactor or two, well, then, go for it.

Now, when it comes down to the choice of the Moon Shots, which has a more promising avenue to making—because when you use the term “Moon Shot,” you’re talking about a homerun, and homeruns don’t come out of the blue. They come out of little steps. I mean, Thomas Edison didn’t have the light bulb just [demonstrates]. I mean, there’s all kinds of, you know, physics and electricity and all those things. That took a long time.

So I guess the term “Moon Shot” is meant to be dramatic. Certainly the press likes it. And so I’m not familiar enough with the components of the Moon Shot and how they are evaluated competitively. I don’t know. I assume if it were a true Moon Shot, that this would be completely evaluated externally, that no one from here would be part of the evaluation. I don’t know how it’s being done. So if it’s being done only here, then I’m sure there’s a lot of politics, and you’ll get yours and I’ll get mine and all that stuff, which will happen all the time. It happens on our Research Committee and all that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Right.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

And if it all comes out to work—yet if I were doing it, I’d have the Moon Shots, I’d have them evaluated by an external group who are sufficiently motivated to do it for nothing if they can, and I think they’d be happy to. I mean, I’d be happy to review someone else’s projects just to read it over and come up with an evaluation and critique it. Maybe you could help the Moon Shot the next time. Nothing helps a project so much as criticism. Criticism is the life of science. All the great discoveries, even after they were made, were heavily criticized. If you want to look at the—read the life of Pasteur on his germ theory, they thought he was nuts to imagine these invisible things causing fermentation or whatever. “It can’t be. I don’t see them.” You know, those kind of things.

So I don’t think we have enough. I don’t know how—so I like the Moon Shot concept. If it’s heavily critiqued, it’s great, and if the successful ones go up, but the unsuccessful ones should be strengthened for the next time, because who knows whose turn it is.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Right. Exactly. Exactly. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

You’ve been so kind and so good. I don’t know how you do this. You have to sit with some people like me for two hours at a time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

(laughs) It’s a pleasure.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Is it fun to you?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, yes, absolutely.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Is it fun?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

(laughs) Absolutely. If you had to do it, you’d say, “Kill me now”? (laughs)

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Kill me. You have amazing patience and you’re so kind.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Oh, well, thank you. But I’m serious. Do you have anything else you’d like to add? We have a few minutes left, I mean, if there’s—

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Oh, I just can’t—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And that’s fine. If you don’t, you can say no.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Well, I can’t think of anything. Anything I’ve said, you can include.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Sure. Well, thank you.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I have no secrets. No secrets.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Thank you. Well, you’ll get a copy of your transcript for review.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

How will you possibly—will you meld the different—sometimes we talked about something in different timeframes, so you’ll try to meld it together?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah. Well, let me turn off the recorder, and then I can tell you a bit about that.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Yeah, okay.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So we’re closing out the interview, and I want to thank you very much for participating in the project.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Yes, you’re welcome.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And I’m turning off the recorder at 11:45.

Chapter 21: Retirement and Contributions

Share

COinS