Women at MD Anderson

Title

Women at MD Anderson

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Identifier

BrunerJ_02_20120607_Clip03

Publication Date

6-7-2012

Publisher

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

City

Houston, Texas

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.

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

This is Tacey Ann Rosolowski, and today I am speaking for the second interview session with Dr. Janet Bruner. Today is June 7th, and the time is about 1:34. We were just reflecting kind of in amazement that it was in 1998 that Dr. Bruner became Chair of the Department of Pathology and that it had taken that long for there to be a female head of a clinical department. You were in the process of telling me a bit about the fact that the hospital had been started by surgeons—and Dr. Clark, of course, being a surgeon—so I wanted you to continue your reflections.

Janet M. Bruner, MD

Right. How surprised I was at the time even to realize or for people to tell me that I was the first woman Clinical Chair, and I realized that there had been Basic Science Chairs who were women, the most memorable being Dr. Kripke at that time who sat as Chair of Immunology. But I think it was because there started to be a lot of women hired here in the 1980s, and most of the faculty who come to MD Anderson—my impression is that the majority come in at very junior levels and then we grow up here. We don’t hire a lot of senior people. Obviously we hire Department Chairs as senior people from outside, but that’s one of the remarkable things about the faculty of MD Anderson is they tend to come here and sort of get stuck by the wonderfulness of the place and never leave. People come, they think, “Oh, I’ll work here five or ten years and then I’ll move on,” but you don’t.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

It doesn’t happen.

Janet M. Bruner, MD

So we were talking about the reasons why there weren’t so many women. I said, “Well, it’s Texas—the Wild West.” It’s just been a very masculine-centric and very surgery-centric hospital at that time and how Dr. Clark as a surgeon had just radically wonderful ideas about how the hospital should operate with all of the specialties being included on an equal basis, both in the participation and also in the rewards, of operating the hospital. That created a culture and system that we still have today—the fact that we have a centralized practice place, that the money doesn’t flow back to the departments or the individual practitioners in any way related to the amount they contribute from their practice. We’re employees in the best sense of the word, and it means that everyone is rewarded when the whole does a job, does well, takes care of patients. The most striking thing about that, and I wish all the patients could know this, that if you come to MD Anderson to see a surgeon or to see an oncologist and that’s not the person you need to see, you’re not going to get anything done to you just because that guy needs to make money that day. They’re going to refer you to the person that you most need to see. If you come to see a surgeon and you don’t need surgery, they’re not going to do surgery on you just because they need to increase their income. They can refer you to an oncologist, and you get treated the way you should be treated—and the entire institution of MD Anderson benefits if you’re treated in the best way possible. There just aren’t that many places that work like that. There’s no financial incentive at all for any physician here to do any procedure or test or treatment that is not in the best interests of the patient.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

Just on a—to go back for a moment on your reflections on the fact that the hospital was started—by surgeon, I’m wondering if you could connect the dots for me. In what way did that make a difference for the status of women in the institution in the early years?

Dr. Bruner

Well, I think that there were fewer women surgeons, and just fewer women were hired. But I think even in medicine at that time—it’s the natural progression of women into the field of medicine, and then that really started to explode in the ’80s and ’90s. Now, I think we have—we don’t have equal numbers probably, but I think it’s a lot more equal—more egalitarian here. Obviously, it’s still tough in the surgery departments, but it’s tough everywhere in surgery departments.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

What have your observations been over the years? Because you were hired at that time when there were a lot of women being hired, and you kind of grew up here—to use your phrase.

Dr. Bruner

Right.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

So what have you seen change? I remember we were talking yesterday—and I think it was when we raised the issue of when you were thinking about becoming Chair and you kind of said, “Yeah, that’s where the glass ceiling is.” You had said you didn’t really experience any different treatment, you felt, because you were female, but then in the issue of administration and assuming leadership positions, what was the situation there in the ’80s? And also in the ’90s?

Dr. Bruner

Oh, I think even today it’s still—there still is somewhat of a glass ceiling. I think people—if you look at our administration now, Margaret Kripke was a notable exception, and it was great to have her in that upper administration level, but when she retired—now we’re back to all men. I think the—they just don’t—it’s not that the men intentionally want to discriminate against women, but they just don’t think the same way so their sensibilities are different. What’s meaningful to them—and it’s quite amazing because some of them—obviously they have wives, they have daughters, but there’s still a difference. There’s still a difference.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

Is there—? I’m curious because you had a couple of mentors—really important mentors—who put important ideas in your head at certain key moments. You know—“This would be a good opportunity to take advantage of”—“Start thinking about Chair”—“Start thinking globally about the institution instead of thinking about your own little world of research.”

Dr. Bruner

Right.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

In what ways do women need to be thinking strategically to start positioning themselves? I’m not trying to—quote—“play the victim” here or put it all on men—

Dr. Bruner

Right.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

—but it is—women have to take a certain degree of initiative or begin thinking strategically about their own careers too.

Dr. Bruner

Right. And I think it’s true of both men and women, and I encourage people to actually think about leadership as a different skill that they need to develop and a different facet of their career—to actually put some thought into how they’re going to prepare themselves for it. You don’t just—you’re not either a natural-born leader or not a natural-born leader. You can learn the skills. You have to practice. I think it really helps you significantly if you do think and plan and take the trouble to make that a serious development goal for your own life. You need to be ready for it. You just need to be ready.

Women at MD Anderson

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