Now resides: Billings, Montana
Degree: B.S. zoology, '81, (M.D. Tulane, '85)
Title: Managing partner, Hematology-Oncology Centers; President, Community Oncology Alliance
How I got to Tech: Are you kidding me? My grandmother, who ran the dining halls at Tech for years, and all but one of her siblings graduated from there. My grandfather was Tech chief of police. Both of my parents are Tech grads and all three of my brothers are Bulldogs. I went to elementary school at A.E. Phillips. I really didn't consider going to college anywhere else.
When did you know that medicine would be your career? I always had an interest in science. Dr. James White from the botany department helped me sharpen that interest when I was at Ruston High by introducing me to the practical aspects of the scientific method. I looked into biomedical engineering when I was a senior in high school. Dr. Reneau was the head of the department then, and he asked me if I thought I might want to go to medical school some day. He wisely steered me to the premed curriculum (probably after seeing my math scores).
What is something about ‘doctoring' that the general public would find surprising?
It's amazing how much of medicine has become big business. The idea of a solo practitioner "hanging up his shingle" and just seeing patients has gone the way of black and white television. Physicians today have to not only keep up with the latest in medical research, but also have to pay close attention to the business aspects of practice.
Most important thing I learned at Tech: Learning how to budget my time was key. Premed classes took a lot of preparation and outside study, and it took planning to balance that with working at the sports information office and the "demands" of social activities.
How Tech prepared me for my career: Premed students are a toxic mix of stress, obsessive behavior and self-doubt, all fueled by large doses of caffeine. The professors at Tech were so supportive, encouraging us to work hard so that we were ready for the rigors of medical school. My non-premed courses, like sociology, psychology and literature, gave me insights into how people think. Physicians focus so much on the technical aspects of medicine, but it's the training in the humanities that have proven to be just as important in dealing with cancer patients every day.
Average day in the life of an oncologist? I get to the office about 7 a.m. and look over any new information that came in overnight. Since I head up our political advocacy group, I have to check the news from Washington and answer emails from other physicians. Hospital rounds are next, followed by seeing 12-20 patients in the office until about 4:30 p.m. Then it's back to the hospital to check on patients, followed by a meeting with my practice manager to go over business aspects. I'm usually home by 7 p.m.
Tips on choosing a major: Go with what you love. Try lots of things before deciding on a career path, and don't be shy about taking a course you might not think will "help" you in the future. One of my favorite classes at Tech was with Dr. John Price for political science, which I thought would have nothing to do with medicine. He really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.
Your toughest professional challenge: The loss of a patient is still difficult, even though I've been doing this for 20 years. I picked a tough specialty, dealing with cancer patients. We see more survivors than ever before as a result of all of the advances that have occurred in oncology, but some patients still die from the disease. It's really not any easier now than when I started.
If I weren't a doctor, I'd probably be: I still dream about being a major league umpire. I really love baseball and call high school games occasionally in Billings. I know it may sound weird, but umpiring a baseball game is one of my great relaxations.
Advice to someone who wants a career in medicine: Many people look at the educational requirements for becoming an oncologist and wonder how anyone can put up with four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of internship and residency, and three years of specialty training. Take it one day at a time, study hard, and find a release during your down time. There's no doubt it's a long and difficult road, but there's something about the shared sacrifice and stress that binds you closely to your colleagues, and this environment creates the best friends you'll ever have.
The best part of your job: I treated a 19-year old woman for acute leukemia almost 10 years ago. She was close to death when she came in and had a very difficult time tolerating the chemotherapy for the two years it took to get rid of the disease. She moved away from Billings a few years later and I had lost contact with her, but this year at Christmas she sent me a picture of herself holding her newborn daughter in her arms. Stories like this one keep me going every day. Although I may have one of the toughest jobs around, I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing.