In the second of this two-part conversation Drs. Patrick Loehrer and David Johnson sit down with Dr. Deborah Schrag, the current Chair of the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to continue the discussion of her roles as a leader, researcher, oncologist, public health expert, and more.
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Dr. Dave Johnson: Hi everyone, welcome back to Oncology, Etc. an ASCO educational podcast. My name is Dave Johnson. I'm at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. And I'm here with my good friend Dr. Pat Loehrer who serves as a director of Global Oncology and Health Equities at Indiana University. In the second half of our conversation with Dr. Deborah Schrag, the current chair of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
In part one, we heard about Dr. Schrag's early life and background, as well as the importance of affordable cancer care and much more. Let's jump back into the conversation and hear about her current goals and initiatives at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
I have a question for you. Jumping ahead a little bit. But I mean, you're such a role model for all of us. But you're now in a very powerful position as head of medicine at the preeminent cancer center in the world. So, I'd be interested in knowing what are your top initiatives? What did you come to this role wanting to do short-term and long-term? I'd be curious to hear from you about that.
Dr. Deborah Schrag: Yeah. So, I have lots of specific initiatives, all the things that are probably very similar across medical cancer centers. We have to figure out the role of immuno-oncology. We have to figure out the role of CAR T-cell Therapy.
There are lots of specific things, but let me tell you about three sort of overarching principles and things that I think we need to think about. So, one of the reasons why I decided to leave my job where I really focused on training researchers and building a research program to lead a department of medicine that has a mix of clinicians, educators, and investigators is that there's really a profound sense of exhaustion and disconnection. I'll use the word even burnout or people get the sense of losing the joy in the practice of medicine.
And as corny as it sounds, and I know I'm going a little corny here, Dave. But I really want to help bring back and connect people to the joy in the practice of medicine. It's the joy that we experience when we crack a tough case, when we help a patient, when our patients make us laugh, when our patients and their families make us cry, when they drive us bananas, when they cook us food that is inedible, just reconnecting us to the joy, to the stories.
I really wanted to try to be a different kind of leader because I felt that I could make a contribution to the field of academic medicine in general and oncology in particular, by working with faculty to set them up to tap into that joy, because I know they all started with it. I know they all went into medicine because they care about those human stories, because they do want to make a difference.
This past week, a fellow intern of mine who you may know, passed away. His name was Paul Farmer. He was the head of Partners in Health and he was an infectious disease physician. There's a book about him by Tracy Kidder that's really moving. There's also a documentary about him called, Bending the Arc, which I would highly recommend.
Paul was an incredible inspiration, just incredible, but he brought so much joy to the practice of medicine. I remember when Paul was going to some of the poorest places on the planet, specifically Cange, Haiti. He got an idea that he needed to bring chemotherapy because there were large cancers that were untreated. And he wanted to get leftover chemotherapy from the Dana-Farber.
So, in the 1990s, when I was a fellow, he would ask me whethe