Corner Office: Dana-Farber CEO Dr. Laurie Glimcher on the issues facing academic medical centers and the joys of being a physician-scientist

Laurie Glimcher, MD, has dedicated her life to both medial research and clinical care, which uniquely positions her to lead an institution such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

In addition to her role as president and CEO at Dana-Farber, Dr. Glimcher also serves as principal investigator and director of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and a professor of medicine at Boston-based Harvard Medical School. Prior to joining Dana-Farber, Dr. Glimcher was a dean, professor of medicine and provost for medical affairs at Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell University. Dr. Glimcher has also been a professor of immunology at the Harvard School of Public Health and a rheumatologist at Brigham and Woman's Hospital, both in Boston.

Dr. Glimcher took the time to speak with Becker's and answer our seven "Corner Office" questions.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Laurie Glimcher: When I was a kid I used to go into Massachusetts General Hospital [in Boston] with my father, who was chair of orthopedics there, and follow him around, often on the weekends, as he would go and see patients. He, like me, was a physician-scientist, but always was devoted to his patients. Even though he spent most of his time tackling questions like how bone gets calcified, he continued to have a clinic that specialized in shoulders and see patients. So I think it was really his influence that piqued my interest in healthcare. I have two sisters, and the thought of going into a hospital and making rounds horrified them but it just intrigued me.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Boston?

LG: I love the colonial flavor of Boston and the culture here, and I love the diversity that we have, particularly in science and medicine. We have researchers and doctors who come from all over the world, and I think the richness of the multiculturalism is very appealing to me. It's a great city but it has the advantage of not being overwhelming. I live very close to the city, in Newton, and it's great to have the city of Boston there but in very close apposition you have these very wonderful public schools. All three of my children went through the Newton public schools. Boston offers a lot of cultural appeal and it's also closely apposed to suburbs where you feel like you're out in the country with lots of greenery around.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

LG: It's really value. We want to provide the highest value to our patients, and value equals quality over cost. You want to deliver the highest quality care you can in the least expensive manner that you can. For the majority of patients, the ability to find high-quality primary care in their local community is vital. Most people want to stay in their communities to get their medical care, and so we need to ensure primary care can be delivered at a high level in the local communities. There are may instances in which academic medical centers, or teaching hospitals, are the best place for a patient to be, and that's especially true in cancer, but we aim at Dana-Farber to deliver high-quality cancer care in the communities as well, as we have several satellites where we employ physicians as well as many partnerships and collaborations. We also want to make sure that every patient for whom the standard of care available is not sufficient to treat that disease, that they have the ability to participate in a clinical trial, which doesn't happen as often as it should in local communities.

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

LG: I'm a basic scientist by training and I've been fortunate to have had a wonderful scientific career in immunology. I fell in love with immunology when I was a first-year medical student here at Harvard and I was just amazed at the fact that we have an immune system that can distinguish between our own body tissues and foreign tissue and agents, whether they be viruses or bacteria or tumor cells. So I fell in love with that and actually spent my fourth year of medical school at a laboratory here at Dana-Farber, so I feel like I've kind of come full circle in my career. And I've been able to spend most of my own career at Harvard working in immunology and fortunate to be able to make some significant contributions to understanding the immune system. I still have a lab, it's a small lab, but we're still doing some interesting work, still contributing,

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

LG: Well I'm fortunate to also have a wonderful family. My husband is going to be a professor at Harvard Brigham Women's Hospital in Boston working in neurodegenerative disease and then I have three terrific kids, two of whom are in Boston. My older son Hugh Auchincloss is a cardiothoracic surgeon on staff at Massachusetts General and my younger son Jake Auchincloss is a Newton city counselor and works at the venture arm of Liberty Mutual. Jake served our country as a captain in the Marine Corps for four years in the Special Forces in Afghanistan. So my two sons are here with their spouses and I have a grandson who's only three months old who's fantastic. I know I'm biased but I think he's pretty perfect, and another grandson from my daughter, who's a lawyer down in Washington, D.C.  I'm also a runner and I love theater and opera, so I'm kept pretty busy.

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

LG: I think that I have tried to live by three principles in my life and career. One of them is passion and being passionate about what you do because life is short and if you're not passionately in love with what you do then what's the point. The second one is endurance because science and medicine aren't easy, so you need to stick with it the through the hard times, and then the third one is kindness. Those are three of the big ones. And I tell people, shoot for the moon, and at least then you have a chance to land among the stars.

I'm a risk taker in terms of science, I think you have to be. If you want to make major contributions you have to be very innovative and very bold. You're going to fail 90 percent of the time but that 10 percent of the time when you discover something really important makes it all worth it.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Dana-Farber so far?

LG: Well I've only been here a year and a half, so I hesitate to say I've had a greatest achievement, but I think that we're at a time right now where the headwinds are really against academic medical centers The [National Institute of Health] has not come close to being able to support most of the research efforts at teaching hospitals. In fact, the NIH budget has declined in real value terms by about 20 percent since 2003. Dana-Farber is unique in being heavily oriented toward making these transformative discoveries that have changed cancer care. There have been two revolutions in cancer care in the last decade, one of them is precision medicine and the second is immunotherapy, so it's an amazing time for cancer research and Dana-Farber has been in the lead for both of those revolutions and the sheer quality of talent here both in research and clinical care has been amazing to me in the year and a half I've been at Dana-Farber. So my goal is to be able to keep Dana-Farber at the forefront of research and at the same time deliver the incredible care we deliver to our patients which to me is sacrosanct. Keeping us at the very top in both areas is a challenge, but I am really committed to making sure that it happens.

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