Chapter 26: From Section to Departments: Reorganizing Melanoma and Sarcoma

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Chapter 26: From Section to Departments: Reorganizing Melanoma and Sarcoma

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Dr. Benjamin sketches the reorganizations that led to the division of Melanoma and Sarcoma into different departments. He explains why, for political reasons, Dr. Irwin Krakoff asked him to serve as Chair of the Department of Melanoma/Sarcoma. Next he explains that the combined department was split in 2000 and a new person recruited to head Melanoma, while Dr. Benjamin continued as Chair of Sarcoma. He explains that the only rationale for the two specialties being together was they could not be associated with a disease site. Dr. Benjamin then talks about his role as chair, stressing again that because of his personality and commitment to patients, he did not allow his administrative role to decrease his clinical work.

Identifier

BenjaminR_03_20150306_C26

Publication Date

3-6-2015

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - An Institutional Unit; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Obstacles, Challenges; Institutional Politics; Growth and/or Change

Transcript

Robert Benjamin, MD:

+But Sarcoma went through a series of iterations. So first we had a Sarcoma section within the Division of Medicine, and I guess at that time we probably had a Melanoma section as well. Actually, when the section was first created, it was Melanoma/Sarcoma.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. That’s what I saw from your CV. Yeah.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

So it started off as Melanoma/Sarcoma, but I as a Sarcoma person was the lead. There were few enough of us that some of us sort of preferred Sarcoma, some preferred Melanoma, some went equally across the two. As we developed under the Division of Medicine, the sections split off at one point to be a Sarcoma section and a Melanoma section, and then later—and I guess this is when Dr. Krakoff came or shortly after he came—he divided the Division of Medicine into a group of departments as opposed to a Department of Medicine with a group of sections. And because of the person who was the leader in Melanoma, he asked me to become Chair of Melanoma/Sarcoma and have it as a single department rather than separate departments, and that was primarily not because—well, it was because each would have been small, but it was primarily because he didn’t want this other person to be a department chair.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Huh. What were the reasons?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

It was actually a very smart move on Dr. Krakoff’s part, because the person who had been head of Melanoma section and under me when we made the department really was a very poor manager of people, and he tried to take credit for everybody else’s work and to sort of put them all down if they had ideas of their own. So rather than foster the development of the faculty, he was basically very disruptive, to the point where eventually we asked him to leave. So as I said, Dr. Krakoff was smart—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, was a smart man.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

—by not making him a chair, because had he been a chair, it would have been much more difficult to have had him go. It was difficult enough under me.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So let’s see. You became chair—I’m trying to find that part—1993. You were Chair of the Department of Melanoma/Sarcoma, and then the two departments split.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Right.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That was around 2000?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah. And the two departments split because after we basically eliminated this person who had been the section head of Melanoma, and he by his actions had caused the person who should have taken that on after him to leave the institution, so we had to go and try to recruit a new person to run Melanoma. And at that point I said, “It’s not fair to recruit somebody from the outside to run the Melanoma program at MD Anderson and then have him have to report to me because I run the Sarcoma program and I report directly to the division head. We ought to have two departments.” There’s nothing scientifically that connects Melanoma and Sarcoma. The only reason they were together is they didn’t have a home. Neither one of them had a home in an organ system.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting. Yeah. So often when I discover these reorganizations and someone’s buried in someone’s CV, there’s just some odd little reason that causes it. It has nothing to do with, oh, you know, there’s like a major rationale for it.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah, there was never a rationale for Melanoma and Sarcoma being together. The only rationale was that initially organ areas were divided surgically. There was somebody who operated on the chest and somebody who operated on the abdomen and soft tissues and somebody who operated on the head and neck and somebody who operated on the brain, and those are the divisions of the way things went through. Then you got sarcomas, which can occur anywhere, and melanomas, which occur on the skin but basically can occur anywhere, and sort of said, “Okay, well, you do melanoma/sarcoma. That’s what’s left.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting. Now, tell me, when you shifted to becoming department chair, did you feel as though your activities, the scope of your administrative reach changed in a substantial way? Was your mission different, your personal mission as an administrator?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Not really, you know. It sounded good. It felt as if I had had a promotion. (Rosolowski laughs.) But what I did—well, actually, I should take that back. No, I did a lot more as department chair administratively than I did when I was section chief administratively just because there were more other people who ultimately reported to me and whose problems I inherited. I think the job of the department chair, in a sense, very much becomes dealing with everybody else’s problems rather than your own. It did not because either of my—well, not either. Because largely due to my personality and my dedication to the patients that I see, it didn’t decrease the amount of work that I did clinically, so I was probably a bad department chair because I still spent too much time doing my own job. So the people who are probably better at managing everybody else are the ones who don’t do quite so much themselves, and that just doesn’t fit with my style of doing things.

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Chapter 26: From Section to Departments: Reorganizing Melanoma and Sarcoma

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