Chapter 11:  Prevention: Acting VP for Cancer Prevention and Adding Prevention to the Mission Areas


Chapter 11: Prevention: Acting VP for Cancer Prevention and Adding Prevention to the Mission Areas



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In this chapter, Dr. Bowen talks about the vision of Dr. Charles LeMaistre and his own new role as Vice President for Cancer Prevention. He also discusses the blending of education with research and patient care and the development of a strategic plan to enhance this.



Publication Date



Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; Building the Institution; Prevention; Leadership; On Leadership


James M. Bowen, PhD:

I want to mention one other important aspect of the association that Academic Affairs had with the present and future of the institution, but it actually goes back to when we were working to recruit Dr. Lemaistre to become the president of the cancer center. Dr. Lemaistre, as an internist, has been one of the nation's most eloquent and most vigorous forces in our effort to deal with the diseases associated with smoking. And it was a natural consequence, I think, of his interest that if you consider the fact that lung cancer was essentially killing more men and women than any other form of cancer every year, was one of the cancers most difficult to cure from treatment and yet, was easily one of the most preventable forms of cancer because 95% of all lung cancers were smoking-related in one way or another. There grew from this association, I think, in Dr. Lemaistre's vision, the need to bring a coordinated and institution-wide emphasis to M. D. Anderson on cancer prevention, to make cancer prevention an equal mission with cancer treatment. But as we begin to actually realize a cancer prevention effort in the institution, we recognize that the larger components of cancer prevention were essentially in epidemiology, in basic research, and in education; particularly that part of education that focuses on awareness and personal intervention for prevention. So, in this role as kind of program assistant for Dr. Lemaistre, he asked me if I would temporarily assume the role of acting vice-president for cancer prevention and to do what I could do to identify mainly, and then to coordinate and enhance the activities of the institution as they focused on cancer prevention, with the idea that ultimately, there would be an identifiable and functioning clinical component of prevention, as well as to coordinate research and educational component of cancer prevention. And I had always kind of shared this dream with him. And so, we put together a very small staff and within the confines of the Office of the Vice-President for Academic Affairs, we began to organize a program in cancer prevention as a mission statement. We worked through the institutional strategic plan to get a mission identified and incorporated. We formed a faculty group for prevention equivalent to the operational faculty groups for the other major mission areas of the institution, and before very long, we had a fair amount of faculty activity invested in areas that could easily be identified as prevention. There were some administrative flexibilities that had to be incorporated in because prevention research was going on in clinical departments, it was going on in basic science departments, it was going on in epidemiology. No one wanted essentially another reporting line that they had to deal with, or another layer of administrative bureaucracy that they had to deal with. What they wanted was some self-governance and some increased access to resources. Well, Dr. Lemaistre understood that and he set that up for them. So, what we were was much more of a coordinating body than we were a reporting body. But for about three years, we worked and we organized and coordinated and developed a structure for prevention, and then we began to look around the nation for a really strong prevention identity to come in and lead this program. We were able to recruit a couple of very powerful department heads to do specific areas of research, particularly in the area of wellness and in epidemiology, and in clinical prevention. And then we found within our institution a leader, actually, the chairman of one of our medical departments, Dr. Bernard Levin [oral history interview], who was a very credible leader in prevention. So, we approached Dr. Levin to become the vice president for prevention. Of course, it meant restructuring his own career at M. D. Anderson because he was the Chairman of Gastroenterology and of GI Oncology, Gastrointestinal Oncology. And this meant basically leaving that position while retaining his clinical presence in GI Oncology, and becoming Vice-President for Cancer Prevention, but he has done that and he has become a remarkable leader. Having that role reminds me of that corny story about owning a big boat. The two happiest days of your life are when you buy it and when you sell it! So, I had an extraordinarily happy day when I accepted that appointment from Dr. Lemaistre, and an extraordinarily happy day when I turned it over to Dr. Levin. But Dr. Lemaistre's vision was, in fact, realized there, and Dr. Levin now presides over a really, really strong program that is highly respected in the country, in the world, is highly integrated to the other activities of the institution, that has a clinical prevention outlet -- this whole new facility for prevention, clinical activity, in the new building which is now named for Dr. Lemaistre. A good amount of national respect in terms of both funding and of the impact of our assignments on what other institutions are doing, and that turns out to be important. It has a strong educational component that still coordinates with academic affairs, a strong research component that coordinates with all of the research activities, and the departments that are doing that kind of work. And a true identity within the overall mission of the institution, one of the things that came uniquely with Dr. Lemaistre. Dr. Lemaistre came in, dedicated to building on what Dr. Clark had begun, dedicated to expanding what Dr. Clark had begun, dedicated [to] organizing it in a way that would take it into a new millennium, and brought his own vision to bear on it, so that when the time came for him to retire and step down, and his successor to come in with his own vision and his own effort, a good, solid, lively, growth-oriented structure in all these areas was already in place. It is so great to come in and be a part of a ship that is already a flagship so that you don't have to go in and bunker up the holes to keep from sinking while you are giving it a fresh coat of paint; whereas, Dr. Clark's vision incorporated himself into it, Dr. Lemaistre began to build almost from the first day that he was president to a time when he would be replaced by a successor. And it was my privilege to have been a part of both of those eras of M. D. Anderson's life. I basically saw what M. D. Anderson was in 1961, and watched it grow to what it became in 1994. And as the astronauts say, "Wow, that was a ride!"

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Chapter 11:  Prevention: Acting VP for Cancer Prevention and Adding Prevention to the Mission Areas