Chapter 14: Lessons in Administration as Ad-Interim Chair of Lymphoma/Myeloma

Title

Chapter 14: Lessons in Administration as Ad-Interim Chair of Lymphoma/Myeloma

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Description

Dr. Rodriguez begins this segment by explaining how her view of the institution changed as she stepped into the role of Ad-Interim Chair of Lymphoma/Myeloma when Dr. Cabanillas retired. She sketches her new areas of responsibility and how this changed her view of operations and the institution as a whole. Next, Dr. Rodriguez explains that traditionally, a Department Chair is seen as an “erudite expert,” but to be successful a chair must let go of her/his ego and bring forth future leaders in the field.

Identifier

RodriguezA_02_20150306_C14

Publication Date

3-6-2015

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject - The Administrator; Professional Path; Leadership; On the Nature of Institutions

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 A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, tell me about, well, there’s the Director of Clinical Investigation and then there’s the Office of Medical Affairs. How do you want to continue your story? You kind of gave me the background about the change in your perspective. What really was kind of a next big landmark in the evolution of your administrative work and perspective?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, around the time, around 2000, yes, around 2000, Dr. Cabanillas retired, who had been my mentor and so on. And I stepped in in an interim role as chair of the department. And that was yet another whole dimension of MD Anderson, because although I had had experience in the administration of the clinic, running a department on the academic side, because the chair of the department, as I said, remember I said those titles are aligned with academic responsibilities, then brings in a whole different set of dimensions to the responsibility, which is the funding for research, the oversight of the staff in the office, the administrative staff, the research support staff, of course the Physicians as academicians, not the Physicians necessarily as professionals, which is what I had been doing before in my role as Director. But as the interim chair I also had to look at them as academicians, and how are they doing in their career progression, who is ready for promotion or not, who thinks they’re ready for promotion but really don’t have the qualifications to be promoted in their academic title, and then how do we talk about that; behavior issues, etc., etc. In addition, of course, now there is a whole set of different peers. You know, as a Medical Director, I and others would interact with each other more on the operations side, you know, I knew the administrative Directors, the nurse managers, etc. On the administrative side of the department, you interface with other department chairs, the division head, the provost. So it’s an alignment of leadership that is different than the alignment of the operations of the organization. And there is also competition for resources, in a different way. There’s—in addition of the competition for office space, there’s the competition for lab space, for position—for the number of positions, how many Physicians, if you want to hire somebody else you have to justify it on the grounds of this, that or the other, and if you’re onboarding them as scientists then they have to have X-number of qualifications, whatever their level of title is, is how much square feet of space they get, and on and on and on. So that’s yet a different level of administrative responsibility that has its own different view of what MD Anderson, or who MD Anderson is. You know, in that world, MD Anderson may or may not have good standing in the national societies; you may or may not get published by certain journals. You may or may not be excluded, perhaps, by certain funding mechanisms. You may or may not be highly successful at philanthropy, etc. So all of these are metrics that are looked at—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

—as a point of evaluation of the performance of that department. So in that realm, then, one sees the organization from the perspective or the world view of, well, for lack of a better word from the academic world, from the knowledge world of medicine. You know, are you credible? How credible is your research? How much have you contributed to the knowledge of the larger community of medicine and science?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So what did you take from that—how were you interim?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Until 2003, when the new chair—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Until 2003, OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

—came on. I think those are the years.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

I don’t actually have—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yeah, 2003, 2004, actually, I think.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Two thousand and four, somewhere in there. Anyway, he, you know, a new chair was brought on board, so therefore, I stepped down in my interim role. One of the things that I learned that was very valuable from that experience is that the people who are chairs of the departments, the traditional model, up until recent years, the traditional model or the historical model of who became a chair was this eruditious expert, you know, best-known, highly-glorified individual. However, again, you know, we have been in a transition period where to really be a successful chair, it’s ironic that the people who are selected for those positions indeed still are the people with the thickest CV. But the irony is that once you step into that role, you have to let go of that ego persona, because the job of the chair really is not to continue to aggrandize your own identity, but rather to bring forth the future leaders of the field, and to ensure that the people who are reporting to you themselves have the opportunities to become great people, great leaders in the future. So managing other people’s careers is your primary job. Ensuring that they have the opportunities, that you champion them, that you mentor them, or if you can’t, then you find the right mentors for them, that you stay on top of pushing them. Like I said, one of the toughest conversations to have is with people who are not going to make the next promotional step, and they think they deserve it. But what if they don’t meet the watermark? I mean, in some ways, and in some ways, that is not the chairs decision; it’s going to be a committee that’s going to decide that. But the chair has a pretty good perspective, because you know what the career path is for everyone else. And if this individual falls significantly short of his peers, then you know that they’re not going to get promoted. I mean, the committee’s going to look at everybody else’s performance and compare. So it’s an interesting job in that sadly, most people who step into the chair job think that they’re there to get further glorification, but no. They’ve got that job so they can make other people great. And that can be a challenge, if the individual who steps into the role does not have that perspective, the department can falter significantly. Because it’s not about the chair, it’s about the department. It’s about the staff in the department, not the peers within the department. So that’s what I learned from that job.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Sounds like a very important lesson, indeed.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

So it makes me appreciate how tough the job of the chair is, quite frankly.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

I think it’s one of the toughest jobs.

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Chapter 14: Lessons in Administration as Ad-Interim Chair of Lymphoma/Myeloma

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