Chapter 07: Shifting Focus from Research to Administration

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Chapter 07: Shifting Focus from Research to Administration

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In this segment, Dr. Rodriguez sketches how she began to shift away from research as her main focus. She began, she says, by doing administrative work “in a surreptitious way.” Dr. Cabanillas asked her to serve as Director of the Lymphoma Clinic, a role that gave her experience, demonstrated her knack for administration, and her commitment to making things better for patients. She talks about working with clinical pharmacists, a new breed of specialists at MD Anderson, and the roles this connection led to. Dr. Rodriguez then talks about how important grantsmanship is for researchers.

Identifier

RodriguezA_01_20150220_C07

Publication Date

2-20-2015

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library, The University of Texas Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

Professional Path; Professional Path; The Administrator; Evolution of Career; On Research and Researchers

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

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

So most of my career, really, was about designing drug combinations, testing them in clinical trials to define or determine efficacy. So that really was the, if you will, the defining perspective of the work I did for many years. And then sort of in a surreptitious way, I started doing administrative work.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Why do you say “surreptitious”?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

(laughter) Well, it was one of those things—see, in academic medicine, people want to avoid getting assigned responsibilities that are in no way, shape or form going to lead to some new project or protocol, or discovery, OK? But Dr. Cabanillas asked me if I would take on the responsibility for being the Director of the Lymphoma Clinic, and it meant sort of helping the nursing administrator of the clinic to create or come up with room assignment schedules, and doctor schedules, distributing dates of the clinic, and distributing personnel and that sort of thing, which most of my peers consider to be terribly boring work and not interesting. But I took it on, and I actually learned I have a knack for administration. Or, at least I liked, or enjoyed, working with people who were committed to trying to make things better for the patients. And so I got to interact with Patient Advocacy, with social work, nursing staff, and very importantly, clinical pharmacists, which were a new specialty in the organization. And these were young men and women who wanted to not just be in the pharmacy dispensary but wanted to be in the front lines of the clinic, and to interact with the Physicians and advise on drug safety, and help us to standardize protocols and standardize the chemotherapeutic order sets, and so on and so forth. And I learned tremendously from them; I hoped they learned from me. But we standardized the structure of orders sets in our clinic, we began to develop, if you will, standard operating procedures for how we would control nausea, how we would hydrate patients, and how we would use certain kinds of catheters to facilitate patients getting chemotherapy, and so on. So this was a multi-disciplinary effort from nursing and the pharmacist and myself, and some of my peers contributed to that as well. But in any event, it was exciting to sort of think of ways in which we could make our work life and the patients’ treatments a little bit more structured and predictable, if you will.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So you held that—this was the period 2000 to 2003, when you were a Medical Director? Or is this actually prior to that?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes. It’s that time. And then afterwards, we also were—well, even prior to that. There were several iterations of the clinic and several iterations of the title.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, was it? Oh, OK. Yeah, here it may be. Clinic chief lymphoma—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

—and myeloma. And that was 1994 to ’96.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes. Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. I mean, you know, it’s funny, because when you said that you found psychiatry interesting, you know, but didn’t have a passion for it, I thought, huh, I wonder why that was. And it seems like that requires kind of a knowledge of people, and maybe getting people together, getting people to work together. So those skills suddenly reasserted themselves even in more complicated ways during that period of being clinic chief. So that must have been exciting to discover kind of an entirely new skillset.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. So how did your thinking about that change? I mean, when he asked you to take on that position, did you have a plan? Or was it kind of learn on the job?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

It was just he asked me to do that, he needs help, I was grateful that he had supported my shift in career orientation from the lab to the clinical research, and—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

That was it.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

And that was it.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

You had a kind of a new thing. Now, just so I understand that period of shift, you said about after four years here, you began to see the handwriting on the wall, that it was going to be really difficult to build a real research career. Now, during those first four years, were there some landmark studies you participated in, or feel you made a major contribution to, that we should talk about here?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, not really.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

I mean, that was part of the problem, that I felt I was spinning my wheels.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

And, I mean there were a couple of clinical—there were a couple of projects that did ultimately get published. But they were not ground—majorly ground-breaking—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

—number one, and secondly, it took a great deal of effort to get them done, and it wasn’t enough to move to—it wasn’t enough, or solid enough, that it was a good foundation for grantsmanship.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. Right.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

And to really be successful in research, then as now, one has to have the skill of grantsmanship. And foundational to that, of course, is good data. But beyond good data, you also have to have excellent writing skills. You have to have perseverance. You have to keep sending, amending, revising, redoing your applications endlessly. And after a certain number of those redoings, rewriting, resending, some of us really don’t have the psychological strength to keep doing it. Some people do. I forget it was where I read where Arthur Miller sent off Death of a Salesman to I don’t know how many publishers and got rejected, like, thirty times. So I don’t know where I get that number, thirty, but he was rejected, like, an enormous number of times and he still kept sending it out.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

He kept sending, yeah.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

So, you know, some people have that level of resilience of continuing to do—for me, it’s, like, I—if I have done something several times, and I think I’ve done my best at it, and it still doesn’t work, why keep doing it?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

I think it was W. C. Fields who said, “Try, try, and then don’t be stupid.” (laughter)

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes, something like that. Yes.

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Chapter 07: Shifting Focus from Research to Administration

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