Chapter 11: Awards and Pride in the School of Health Professions and MD Anderson's


Chapter 11: Awards and Pride in the School of Health Professions and MD Anderson's "Pipeline of Caring"



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In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn talks about awards he has received. In response to a final question about what he does to relax, Dr. Ahearn recounts an anecdote about caring for Tobias, a miniature horse.



Publication Date



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


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Career and Accomplishments; Portraits; Human Stories; Offering Care, Compassion, Help; Career and Accomplishments

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.


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


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

One of the questions I had thought of asking was if there was ever a danger of MD Anderson becoming too large. What do you think about that?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

I don’t think so, because it has become very large from the couple of hundred that were here when I first came in ’65 to over 18,000 now, and we’ve never lost it, and I think as long as that spirit is transmitted down to each generation that follows, Anderson will never become too large. Because as it grows, so does its heart.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That’s a -- yeah, that’s a lovely way of putting it. I had an interesting experience yesterday: I went to get a post office box, and I showed my MD Anderson ID, and one of the women at the post office told me a story about her aunt who came here and had her life extended by two years, and they had just recently buried her, but she was very positive, you know, that that extra two years was a beautiful two years for her, and she credited MD Anderson. So it’s just neat, you know, all over the city and probably all over the state and the world.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

And I think there’s a great deal of pride in the faculty and the staff in maintaining that. I know in the summer, bringing in just the summer program students, we always tell them because of the fact that they have a coat, that they’re getting a lab coat, and they wear an MD Anderson badge, that when patients encounter them in the hallway they think that they’re an MD Anderson staff person. And I said, “You know, they’ll probably ask you ‘Do you know how...?’” Because that’s one of the things -- as we’ve grown, it’s very difficult to navigate this institution because of the size, and so a lot of the patients are having difficulty, and they always ask, “How do I get to this elevator bank?” or “How do I get to this clinic?”, and I said, “You’re probably not going to know, but you can take them to someone that does, one of the nursing stations through the clinic area, and those people will be able to direct them.” But I think that’s the way we do with all new employees or anyone that comes into the Institution. Somebody takes responsibility for orienting them in the way of helping patients, and it’s just passed down through the years, you know, that hopefully we won’t ever get egg on our face by not responding in the way we should, and...

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It seems like MD -- you were talking about the pipeline of education yesterday. It sounds like MD Anderson has a pipeline, as well.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

MD Anderson has very much a pipeline for the MD Anderson spirit (inaudible).

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It’s interesting. I didn’t want to neglect talking about the variety of honors that you have received over the course of your career, and mentioned yesterday that on June 30th you were awarded the Presidents Award for Excellence, which, as I understand, is signed by all three of the MD Anderson Presidents, and then in addition, in 2007 you were named University of Texas System Distinguished Teaching Professor. In 2006 you were inducted into the University of Texas Academy of Health Sciences, and in 2002 you were inducted into the Texas Science Hall of Fame, and I’m wondering as you look back over these awards -- and there are others, too -- which one of those means the most to you, and why?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, they were all -- I’m very grateful to receive all of those honors, and whether they were deserved or not is someone else’s judgment, not mine, but I think perhaps the President’s award was one that I was extremely pleased to receive. It was very gracious of Dr. Mendelsohn, because of the small number of individuals that have received that particular award, and it was a culmination of a career here at the Institution of trying to contribute in a number of different areas. And to be recognized for that, I think, was... The other, perhaps, that you didn’t mention was the [Regina]

Rogers Award that I received for Excellence in Education, and that is a peer selected group of individuals, and they’re always outstanding people in each of the areas. And I received that award in education, and I was -- that was (inaudible), because I knew Ben and Julie Rogers, and the Award had been established in honor of Ben and Julie Rogers, so I was pleased to receive that award.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And that was in 2002.

Michael Ahearn, PhD


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Mm-hmm. As you look back over your career, what are the things that you’ve participated in, accomplished that you hope will continue?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

That’s a difficult question. The areas that I contributed in at each time I felt were important because I devoted a great deal of myself to them. I think perhaps the school now would be the one that I would hope to see continue to grow. We started and laid a foundation that I think we can build upon to form a very fine health professional school here at the Institution, and I think that the nucleus with the eight programs that exist now are the way we need to go, but there are going to have to be programs that are going to be added to that. We already have needs within the Institution that have been presented to us, that we need technologists in different areas that did not exist at the present time here, and I think that the basis -- the faculty has grown. We started out very small, but we’re at a level now that I think we can offer [initial?]

programs. So I think perhaps the school and the growth that that will take over the next five, ten, fifteen years will be very important. And as I told you earlier, because of the fact that we are not nearly meeting the workforce needs, I think it’s going to serve this Institution very well, because we see people that are coming in with training elsewhere in certain areas where are not currently offering training that do not meet the workforce needs of this Institution as far as quality is concerned, and so I think that the graduates that we produce, they are trained the Anderson way is the way I always put it. They graduate on Friday and they start to work on Monday, but they’re just moving around from one side of the bench to the other. They know every drawer, what size pipettes are in every drawer, and they know the standards that Anderson has, which are very high. And sometimes we can’t from the general workforce market find individuals that have that same quality of training, because they were trained at Anderson, by Anderson faculty.


C: Portraits

C: Human Stories

C: Offering Care, Compassion, Help

“Caring for Tobias”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I had just a few final questions I wanted to ask you, which are really a little bit more about the person behind the Institution, because we’ve talked about all your institutional roles, but so I wanted to just get a little bit more of a sense of maybe what you do when you’re not here, and I wanted to ask you about how you relax when you take time away from this very, very demanding job.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, currently we have a miniature horse, Tobias, and his name comes from Tobia, which is Hebrew for “God is my good,” (laughter) and God really saved him. The school that is associated with a church that I belong to was going to build a library, and they worked on this for a number of years, and they always had an auction to raise money for the library, and they always had a parent that served at the auctioneer, and well meaning but not a professional auctioneer, and if something had been donated at $350 they might sell it for $100 because they just didn’t know how to work the room, so to speak. And finally it came down to the point that they said, “If we don’t raise the money this year we’re not going to ever have the library for the school.” So they decided rather than having a parent serve as auctioneer -- it was during the time of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, so they said, “We’re going to get some professional auctioneers from the liveston show, so they’ll come in here and know how to do it.” And then they decided that the smart way to do it was to have shills. If something was worth $1,000, the shill would bid it up to $1,000 to ensure that we didn’t sell a $1,000 for $250. So on the night of the event -- it was in one of the hotel ballrooms here in Houston, and the first item on the auction list was a miniature horse, and they had the actual horse there in the ballroom, and we had finished dinner, and they paraded the horse around the dance floor of the ballroom, and the bidding started with the professional auctioneers. And I did not realize this, but they had been bringing that horse to the school every morning for a week, and as the parents brought the children to school they saw the horse there, and every kid wanted the horse, so when the bidding started it was -- everybody in the ballroom was bidding on the horse, and it was easy to just keep pushing the level up. Well, finally it got to a point where there were just two people bidding, myself and a gentleman that was all the way across the ballroom at a table that I couldn’t see, but every time I would raise the bid he would raise it again. And someone came up and whispered in my ear and said, “That’s Charlie Thomas that owns all the automobile dealerships in Houston, and he wants that horse for his grandchild.” So he says, “Just stick it up there really high.” So I did in the next bid, and there was absolutely dead silence from the other side of the ballroom, and the auctioneer had a great, big, long stick, and he pointed at me and said, “Sold!” Well, by that time my wife had her fingers in my ribs, (laughter) and saying, “What have you done?” Because I live in a high rise, and I didn’t have a place for a horse. But I told her not to worry, that I would donate the horse to another charity and we could take it as a tax write-off. But during the week, the place that they had carried the horse was a local stable, Blue Fox Farm here, and they only had big horses, and they had what they called two-board fences, and the horse, if they had put it out in the pastures there, could have walked under the bottom fence rail, so they couldn’t let the horse out. They had to keep it in the trailer. So she had to go out every day and feed the horse and take it out of the trailer and let it exercise around, and then at night put it back in the trailer. So at the end of a week she said to me, “Forget it, because I have bonded with that horse,” so we inherited the horse. Now we’ve had him ever since, but his care now has fallen on me, and so she picks me up in the afternoon, and it’s 14 miles out, and we drive out, and I take care of the horse. And so that has been my relaxation.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That’s a great story.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Sometimes, you know... I feel like sometimes with the problems we have during the daytime that I shovel a lot of manure, and then (laughter) I can leave here and go out, but I said, you know, “That doesn’t talk back to me.” (laughter) But it is a relaxation, and just getting to be -- I’d been around animals all my life. We had dogs when I was a child, and my wife and I had had two little Dachshunds, but I’d never been around horses before. But it was a new thing, and when we first went out people said, “A horse is not like a dog. They don’t have the same affection for you. They’re traded back and forth and they have allegiance for whoever owns them at that point in time, and they’ll perform the task but they don’t have the same problems, I mean the same abilities that a dog does or a cat to have some affection for you.” But that’s wrong, and I saw that very quickly. It’s because those people rode their horses, and then they turned them over to a groom to wash them and put them back in the stall, but we’ve not had that same feeling with Tobias because we have to do it all, but he is just like a pet to us. And in fact, they had to put, develop a pasture for him with three board fences, which he can’t walk under, but they also had to build a special stall for him because he could, the big stalls he could walk out of. So he has his own little area, and it has a Dutch door on his paddock area, and at night when we are cleaning up to leave we shut the bottom door and leave the top one open, and he’s in the inner stall area, and he will not let us shut the top door to that Dutch door until we reach over the edge and hug him around his neck, and then he’s perfectly free to let us go. But he will stick his head in the door where it can’t close until we have shown that little bit of affection before we leave. So horses are the same as any one of other God’s creation. They have the ability to love and care for you, too. So it’s been very rewarding, and it is a relaxing thing.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Well, thank you very much for sharing your time and experiences for the oral history project, Dr. Ahearn.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Thank you.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I’m turning off the recorder now at 11:30.

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Chapter 11: Awards and Pride in the School of Health Professions and MD Anderson's