Chapter 02: Recruitment to MD Anderson and Dr. R. Lee Clark, the “Visionary”

Title

Chapter 02: Recruitment to MD Anderson and Dr. R. Lee Clark, the “Visionary”

Files

Description

Dr. Byers relates influences on his decision to join MD Anderson, political considerations in building MD Anderson, and others who joined MD Anderson who worked in, or in concert with, the new field of Head & Neck Surgery. Finally, Dr. Byers gives examples of Dr. R. Lee Clark being a “visionary.”

Identifier

ByersR_01_2019014_C02

Publication Date

10-14-2019

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas; Building/Transforming the Institution; This is MD Anderson; Leadership; Politics and Cancer/Science/Care

Disciplines

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

Transcript

Robert Byers, MD

My history may get out of the bounds in which you have decided to go, but I think it would be important for me, since I served with three of the first presidents the institution has ever had. So when I arrived in 1970, I came because I wanted to take a fellowship here, and I had some people who told me, “This is the place to go, don’t go to Memorial, this is the place that’s going to be the—”

Charles Balch, MD

William MacComb was the chief then.

Robert Byers, MD

Yes. When I came here he was. Clark said to us, or said to me, I don’t know if he did this to all the recruits, but said to me, “There’s two things I’d like for you to take in your mind, and one is that you’re not going to make a lot of money here. But I’m going to create a retirement that’ll be better than anything in the world.” And he was right.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes, that was the PRS Foundation.

Robert Byers, MD

Well, it was retirement.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes, and the retirement.

Robert Byers, MD

Package that included everything. And today it’s fabulous, better than any corporate company.

Charles Balch, MD

And in this book we have before us on Clark and the Anderson, Lee Clark said in 1946 and then a few years later to Theophilus Painter that they needed to be a foundation, that although we couldn’t pay direct salaries, that we need to make sure that people’s benefits and retirements are taken care of.

Robert Byers, MD

He also said, “I’d like for you, if you travel, to travel in Texas, and to go to all the small cities and towns in Texas, somehow go through, so you get to know where these people are coming from. You can identify certain things about their towns, or you can relate to them.” Because it was all about trying to woo patients away from the people who thought we were just going to take care of people who were dead and dying.

Charles Balch, MD

Right. And at that time, you had to have a physician’s referral for a patient to come to see you at MD Anderson. Is that correct?

Robert Byers, MD

Because of the politics of the country, or the state really, practicing politicians in medicine were saying, “Well, we don’t necessarily want this cancer hospital to interfere with our practices.” So Clark said, “OK, fine. We’ll just take your leftovers, or we’ll take people that you’ve treated and then they’ve recurred.” It’s kind of like Christ. We’ll take all the comers. And so that eased that pressure and that jealousy and whatever.

Charles Balch, MD

Competing economically.

Robert Byers, MD

But it has continued, Charles, throughout the whole—it just showed up yesterday when I was trying to get a patient here. And the doctor who she saw in Sugar Land said, “Well, you could get good care at Anderson, but we’ll give you better care and more comfort, and you’ll be more satisfied.”

Charles Balch, MD

Still goes on to date.

Robert Byers, MD

That is the issue. And then when you look at the percentage of patients of cancer that we see locally, it’s always ranged around 10% to 20%. So the people come from all over the world, but people in Houston for some reason—and I think it has something to do with their wanting to—people stay where they live with cancer. They go with heart. When you get your heart operation you’ll go wherever it is. Cancer, they want the comradeship of people they know and compassion and whatever. So that’s been a problem. But anyway, Clark did that. He is a visionary as you well know.

Charles Balch, MD

Incredible visionary.

Robert Byers, MD

He told us about he had a better monogram than Disneyworld has ever conceived for this medical center. This was an outstanding recruiter. He had the background of Mayo Clinic. He came with actually people he had known in San Antonio in the air force and brought. Cliff Howe.

Charles Balch, MD

And Ed White.

Robert Byers, MD

Ed White. Brought those people.

Charles Balch, MD

And even Jay Ballantyne.

Robert Byers, MD

Well, he came from the Arizona Mayo Clinic too.

Charles Balch, MD

But he was in the military, I thought, at one time.

Robert Byers, MD

Well, at one time, but he basically was part of Clark’s recruitment as a general surgeon. But it turned out to be he migrated with MacComb. And there was some conflict there between MacComb and Ballantyne.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes. OK.

Robert Byers, MD

I don’t want to get into those weeds particularly. But it was there. Now MacComb, your research on MacComb would have to start at Memorial, because he was trained under Martin up there. And also there was several physicians, Ron Spiro and Elliot Strong up there, who were probably the best surgeons up there. I don’t know about MacComb’s surgical expertise at Memorial, but when he came he was kind of in the twilight of his career, he’d picked up something, Clark picked him out of Memorial I guess for various reasons. There were other surgeons there that maybe could have come too. But I guess he felt that MacComb had worked in a multidiscipline thing with radiotherapy stuff there and that kind of thing, and he hired Fletcher as a coworker with MacComb.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes.

Robert Byers, MD

So MacComb came into not a division but a section, he was a section chief.

Charles Balch, MD

And maybe just historically, Bill MacComb was certified in radiology in 1936. So he wasn’t certified in surgery, but he was certified in radiology, which at the time was divided between diagnostic and therapeutic, so probably he’s related to Gilbert Fletcher.

Robert Byers, MD

Yes, that also kind of affected his relationship with other surgeons. But Clark, and this is why it pertains to him, that Clark hired the best he could find, pathologist Bill Russell, got him here. Jerry Dodd in radiology, diagnostic, got all that so crucial for the development of head and neck surgery to have those. He brought Eleanor Macdonald here as a data statistician and a statistician and all that data and stuff. She did that. He had other people that he—as I say, Ed White, and Ed White recruited Martin and yadda yadda. Head and neck sort of fluctuated until Dick Jesse decided that he’d get out of family practice, get a surgical training, and come here as a general surgeon.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes.

Robert Byers, MD

But, as with Ballantyne, they gravitated into the new field of head of neck surgery, which was attractive to the general surgeon at the time.

Chapter 02: Recruitment to MD Anderson and Dr. R. Lee Clark, the “Visionary”

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