Chapter 08: Thoughts on the Culture of MD Anderson

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Chapter 08: Thoughts on the Culture of MD Anderson

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In this chapter, discusses his impressions of MD Anderson culture as he took on different roles. He explains that non-faculty "carry the culture here" and the majority take great pride in working at MD Anderson. He contrasts this with how the faculty relate to the culture (the institution as a means of furthering their careers). Next, Dr. Brock talks about changes that occurred once Dr. Ronald DePinho became president. (noting that he was retired to part time service in the Office at that point). He recalls he was excited about Dr. DePinho's scientific credentials, but saw new themes arising in conversations with individuals who came to the Office with concerns, notably complaints about fairness, a growing elitism, salary inequity, and bullying/belligerent behavior. Dr. Brock then comments that he is happy to see Dr. Peter Pisters' focus on civility, but is waiting to see the outcome of some of the new initiatives to build culture. He talk about faculty "super bullies," explaining that it is difficult to shift culture when problem people are very powerful. In his view, training for leadership is key.

Identifier

BrockW_02_20190122_C08

Publication Date

1-22-2019

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Overview; MD Anderson Culture; Leadership; On Leadership; MD Anderson Culture; Institutional Processes; Working Environment; Understanding the Institution; Personal Background; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose; Critical Perspectives; Critical Perspectives

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. I had some questions that I wanted to ask you about, really, the—exploring a little more this relationship with MD Anderson culture. And I guess I just wanted to ask you your observations. Do you feel, just thinking about MD Anderson culture in a kind of global way, does it have characteristics that you feel kind of distinguish it from other institutions? How would you describe that? And I have a reason for setting us on this little path, because... [laughs] But how would you evaluate that? Bill Brock, PhD The culture of MD Anderson?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Mm-hmm. Bill Brock, PhD [MD Anderson is the only “real” job I have ever had, so it difficult to compare my direct experience with other institutions.] I started as a postdoc was a faculty member for many years, and so I saw that side of the MD Anderson culture. I find that the people here are very dedicated. They’re very serious about cancer. In the forty-some years I was here, I don’t think I heard a single joke about cancer. [ ] So [the mission] is taken very seriously. When I became an ombudsperson here, it [broadened my view of the institution. It appears to me that the non-faculty employees] are the people that really carry the culture. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Really? Bill Brock, PhD [ ] Most employees are very proud to be working here. They really feel like they’re part of something important. No matter what their job is, they feel that they’re contributing to cancer care. [Redacted

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, I wanted to kind of start this conversation, because there have been a lot of changes at the institution. There was John Mendelsohn, and then as—we have Ronald DePinho, and then we had a transition team, and now we have a new president [Peter Pisters, MD]. And so I’m curious what your observations have been about any changes in the culture over that time. Bill Brock, PhD [I can’t say much about cultural change with presidents from Dr. Mendelsohn to Dr. Pisters. I knew Dr. Mendelsohn and he was very interested and supportive of our program. When Dr. DePinho arrived, I was no longer director of the program and had limited contact with him. [Cultural change happens much more slowly that the tenure of a president.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Remind me of the year that you retired, again? To part-time? Bill Brock, PhD Two thousand and six.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Two thousand and six, yeah, okay. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Can you kind of—in general brushstrokes, what were some of the new things that were coming up? Bill Brock, PhD [I haven’t been in the mainsteam of faculty politics for many years. I heard a lot, but most of it falls into the category of rumor.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, and that’s fine. No, no, no, that’s fine. I really did mean general brushstrokes. And, I mean, another related question I was going to ask was about communication, and if it seemed that there were sort of new kind of communication challenges that people were having, different... That’s a very vague question, I know, but... Bill Brock, PhD With the change of leadership?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Because there are norms of communication in a culture—this is the way we do things here—and I’m wondering if there were kind of new communication challenges that were coming up with this sort of shifted culture. Culture’s hard to get a finger on, I know, but I wondered if you had impressions about that kind of thing. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD Well, the fairness thing I’m talking about had to do with things like hiring, where the people came from, how—inequities in salaries, things like that, plus bullying, belligerent behavior. Because there were a lot of new people here.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right, yep, who also came from very different cultures. Bill Brock, PhD Yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yep, yep. Academic and regional and all of that. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Interesting. Okay. And the elitism? I mean, obviously could be connected, but were there other kind of things that were connected with the elitism question that you were hearing? Again, not asking you to reveal anything. Bill Brock, PhD Not that I can mention without being very specific.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay, that’s fine. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. No, he certainly had deep feeling about cancer. Bill Brock, PhD Yeah, he did, and I thought some of his initiatives were very good. The Moon Shots was a great idea. At first I thought that is just way too ambitious, but it certainly attracted money, and one can’t argue against that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. I mean, John Mendelsohn would say you really do need to have what he called the “big, hairy goal,” and that certainly qualifies as a big, hairy goal. [laughter] And it inspires people. Bill Brock, PhD Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

It can, yeah. Do you have any sense at all from even casual conversation about what’s been going on since Dr. DePinho’s resignation, and kind of the turbulence that the institution has been in? Bill Brock, PhD No, I don’t know much about that. [ ] there seems to be optimisim with some of the initiatives, especially those about civility, and the promises that were made. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Well, I wanted to ask you about that. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I mean, certainly since when Marshall Hicks [oral history interview] took over and created the team to transition to the new president, there was suddenly a new attention to a lot of these. I mean, Marshall Hicks sort of describes it as a more intentional, quote, “care and feeding of the culture.” And now that Peter Pisters has arrived, there’s all this language of emotional intelligence and all that kind of thing. So you’re saying, wait a minute; you’re looking with a more jaded eye at this. [Redacted]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, in your ideal world, what kinds of initiatives, and what kind of change process, must be put in place, or would you say put this in place in order to make changes in culture at this fundamental level to make a difference? And— Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And I haven’t … A lot of narratives I’ve collected from leaders who were basically self-taught leaders, that they decided this was important to them, but they had to figure it out on their own. And I get—I did interview Janis Apted Yadiny [oral history interview] with the Leadership Academy, and all—faculty development, and all that, at least on that side of the house. Bill Brock, PhD That was at the beginning.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, exactly. Bill Brock, PhD We started out with the Rice course, and I was in that first group, and that was terrific.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, really? You were in that group? Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, really? Bill Brock, PhD [ ] Before that, there was no training whatsoever. I mean, you go to medical school, you get your degree, and you practice medicine [or do research], and then suddenly you are in charge of a bunch of people, so you treat them the way you think you’re supposed to treat them. [Some are very bad at supervision and some are very good. One of the big differences between leaders] are those who consider their position to be a privilege rather than a responsibility. If they would focus on their responsibilities as a leader, [the would help their employees develop and increase quality.] [ ]

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Chapter 08: Thoughts on the Culture of MD Anderson

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