Chapter 03: Dr. Byers’ Training and Decision to Join MD Anderson

Title

Chapter 03: Dr. Byers’ Training and Decision to Join MD Anderson

Files

Description

Dr. Byers talks about his his training by, and admiration of, surgeon Dr. Robert Buxton while working as a general surgeon residency at The University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. He then discusses joining MD Anderson in 1970 as a general surgeon, recruitment a year later to Head & Neck Surgery by Section Chief Dr. Richard “Dick” Jesse, and work with Dr. William “Bill” MacComb.

Identifier

ByersR_01_2019014_C03

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 - Professional Path; Professional Path; Joining MD Anderson; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Giving Recognition

Disciplines

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

Transcript

Charles Balch, MD

So let me go back a second about Bob Byers. What was your training prior to coming to MD Anderson, and then how were you trained as a true head and neck surgeon, not a general surgeon that operates on the external area and the neck, but not really on the squamous cell cancers internally?

Robert Byers, MD

I did everything in surgery. I trained with Robert Buxton, a Michigan graduate, came from Michigan.

Charles Balch, MD

So you finished your general surgery training.

Robert Byers, MD

General surgeon, he was the greatest technical surgeon I’ve ever met or ever trained—I trained with him. I was going to become chief of surgery at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania hospital, before I got a call from Jesse or whoever here that said, “We’re interested in having fellowships in head and neck, but we’re general surgeons.” I’ve been a general surgeon my whole life. I boarded in general surgery. I did head and neck. But I also did general surgery when I first came here. I took a fellowship in general surgery under White and Martin, and Jesse said, “Look, I’d like to have you with me.”

Charles Balch, MD

So you started out doing general surgical oncology.

Robert Byers, MD

General surgery all the way.

Charles Balch, MD

And then migrated to head and neck.

Robert Byers, MD

I did hysterectomies, pinned hips, did all that in my residency. So I was well versed in general surgery. But it was a whole new world in head and neck, and that was fascinating to me, it was challenging, and I said, “Hey, this is a going proposition down here, this looks like to me this is going to be something to get into.”

Charles Balch, MD

So you did your general surgery residency in Michigan, then—

Robert Byers, MD

No, in Maryland.

Charles Balch, MD

In Maryland.

Robert Byers, MD

By a man who was trained at Michigan, so he was not a Maryland person when I—

Charles Balch, MD

And which hospital was that?

Robert Byers, MD

This is University Hospital, University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. I didn’t go to East Baltimore medical facilities.

Charles Balch, MD

I understand. And then you came here to do general surgical oncology with Ed White.

Robert Byers, MD

One year.

Robert Byers, MD

One year. And then one or two years.

Charles Balch, MD

I was going to go back as I said to Hershey, I had a job there, they wanted me to be chief of surgery in Hershey, and I said to Marcia—

Charles Balch, MD

That’s where Dr. Waldhausen was the chief then. Dr. Waldhausen, the cardiac surgeon.

Robert Byers, MD

Yeah, but that was way back.

Charles Balch, MD

He tried to recruit me to Hershey also in the ’70s.

Robert Byers, MD

Yeah. Well, anyway, I said to Marcia, my wife, I said, “I know you’d love to go back to Hershey, Pennsylvania because that’s where all our family is, in Maryland. And you would be with them.” She said, “Yeah, you’re daggone right.” I said, “Well, I’ve decided to take another fellowship with Dr. Jesse here and I’m telling the guy in Hershey put me on a hold.”

Charles Balch, MD

But just so I have the context, Bill MacComb was the chief. But Dick Jesse was in charge of the training program. Is that right? When you came.

Robert Byers, MD

No, Dick Jesse was one of the faculty.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes. But Bill MacComb was still the chief until 1976?

Robert Byers, MD

Yeah, whatever, I have the actual dates here that I can refer to.

Charles Balch, MD

I think it was 1976.

Robert Byers, MD

Let’s see. MacComb section chief in 1952 here in head and neck. September 1st in ’67 was replaced by Jesse. And I came in ’70. So Jesse had been three years as the chief.

Charles Balch, MD

So Dick Jesse was the chief. And then Bill MacComb was still doing—

Robert Byers, MD

He was just a hanger-on.

Charles Balch, MD

He was doing a rehabilitation.

Robert Byers, MD

Well, whatever he was. He was a hanger-on. But he practiced. He still operated.

Charles Balch, MD

And then he retired in ’76.

Robert Byers, MD

He retired full-time in ’73 and left and died in ’88.

Charles Balch, MD

I’m glad to have those dates in the record.

Robert Byers, MD

So MacComb was not the chairman when I came. He was not the head of anything. He was there on the staff. He saw some patients and did some surgery, and I assisted him. But to be frank, he wasn’t at the top of his game, I think. But Jesse still let him have privileges and did what he could do. And I will not say anything derogatory about him or anything derogatory about how he did surgery. But it just was not—he should have stepped down. But Jesse was very good about it.

Chapter 03: Dr. Byers’ Training and Decision to Join MD Anderson

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