Past President of ASCO Takes on New Role at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to Improve Patient Care and Public Health

A Conversation With Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP

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Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP

If I can help increase the effectiveness of Memorial’s voice in this effort, then my expectation is that everyone—patients, payers, policymakers, and faculty—everywhere should benefit too.

—Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP

In June, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Memorial) in New York announced it had appointed ­Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, Chief of Breast Medicine Service, to a newly created position of Vice President for Government Relations and Chief Advocacy Officer. In addition to his new role, Dr. Hudis will maintain his position as Chief of Breast Medicine Service and will remain on the CancerLinQ Board of Governors. With this new  position Memorial has a designated physician leader to liaison with key stakeholders in health care, including insurers, patients, industry, and public health policymakers, to better understand and meet the changing forces and emerging needs in cancer care, said Dr. Hudis.

Dr. Hudis’ responsibilities as President of ASCO (2013–2014), a member of ASCO’s Board of Directors for the past 6 years, and a member of the CancerLinQBoard of Governors overseeing the development of ASCO’s big-data health system, have prepared him for the range of tasks in his new position, he said.

The ASCO Post talked with Dr. Hudis about his new position and his goals for advancing oncology care for all patients.

Strategic Position

Why did Memorial create the position of Vice President for Government Relations and Chief Advocacy Officer, and why at this particular time?

This new position addresses a strategic opportunity for Memorial. It further organizes our institutional activities and initiatives to make sure that Memorial’s value proposition is well understood by all health-care stakeholders, including government regulators and public health policymakers, payers, patients, and everyone with an interest in cancer care.

Our overall goal is to ensure that patients will have continued access to Memorial’s resources and that the environment fosters the innovation and scientific advances we seek. In the end, this benefits not only Memorial, but the entire research and cancer care ecosystem.

To accomplish these goals we have to tell our story and explain the benefits of our approach to research and cancer care. At the same time, as an institution, we need to continuously learn where and how we need to evolve in response to changing conditions in terms of funding and other resources for research and care.

All of this should be aided by having an experienced investigator, administator, and clinical leader providing insights and guidance, and that is this feels like a great opportunity to me.

More Than Just Cost of Care

When you say “value proposition,” are you referring to the cost of oncology drugs?

Although the rising cost of cancer drugs is one of many important components of the overall cost of care, and one my institutional colleagues have not shied away from addressing, it is by no means the only issue, and my new position is not narrowly focused on any single component of the cost of medication or care. The value that Memorial brings to the care of patients with cancer is through our development of novel and better treatments and interventions; the establishment of new models of care; and new strategies for cancer prevention based on scientific insights.

Value can be difficult to define, but we aim to accomplish this by demonstrating the long-term benefits to patients—and to all of society—from the advances and innovations made here as well as the everyday high-quality care we provide.

All of this has been part of what Memorial has sought to provide to the world since its founding in the 19th century as the first specialty hospital solely dedicated to cancer. To meet the exciting new opportunities modern science is providing, we need to continually invest in our faculty and our facilities, and to do that, we need partners across the health-care spectrum, including insurers, government regulators, and health-care policymakers. Convincing them that we are a great investment means telling  our story with clarity and vision.

What Is Good for Memorial…

Why did you decide to accept this new position, and what do you hope to accomplish?

The answer is both personal and professional. One of the highlights of my career was the opportunity I’ve had to serve as the President of ASCO in 2013–2014. In addition, I’ve now spent a total of 6 years on ASCO’s Board of Directors, and in that capacity, I’ve come to understand some of the ways in which a highly functional and effective professional society governs itself, makes decisions, responds to challenges, interacts with the rest of society, and creates opportunities for growth. Building on the tremendous support Memorial provided over the years while I focused on meeting my responsibilities at ASCO, I think the leadership here saw an unusual opportunity to get something back by leveraging my experience for the benefit of the institution.

I the end, I firmly believe that what is good for Memorial is what is good for America, which is paraphrasing a quote sometimes attributed to Alfred P. Sloan, Jr, who along with Charles F. Kettering established the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in 1945. Along with Charles E. Wilson, Alfred Sloan has been cited as saying essentially that, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” I think it is similarly true that what is good for Memorial is what is good for the world in terms of research funding, insurance reform, and access to care. My goal is to continue to help the entire oncology community through my advocacy for Memorial.

A Patient Connection

Why did you decide to maintain your position as Chief of Breast Medicine Service?

I love caring for patients and conducting research. Our Breast Medicine Service at Memorial is large in terms of clinical volume, translational research, and faculty, and it enables me to have an ongoing connection to patients both on a personal level and a professional level. This continuously informs my understanding of the challenges we face in routine patient care, research funding, and public policy so that when I speak with faculty and ASCO members, I share the issues they are confronting.

I have always been fascinated by the big picture in cancer care, and my time at ASCO both enlightened and inspired me. On the one hand, I care for individual patients just like so many ASCO members; on the other hand, I am intrigued by the ways in which we can help further cancer advances through public policy and education to achieve better health. I don’t want to sound grandiose, and I know I represent only a small part of what has become a worldwide effort, but my goals with this new role are similar to those that have motivated my interest in studying the obesity/inflammation/cancer problem. I am intrigued by both the exciting molecular biology and also the huge public health and policy impact enhanced understanding can enable.

For me, this new role offers the hope of meaningful and broad impact. At the same time, we recognize that we are not the only institute providing excellent cancer care or the onlgy center engaged in cutting-edge research. But the progress we make here can support improved care everywhere, and the issues we address touch all of us no matter where we work. The public and regulatory policies that enable us to do our work at Memorial better will also help others who are pursuing these same goals.

In the end, all of us are aligned in our goal of improving cancer care. But if I can help increase the effectiveness of Memorial’s voice in this effort, then my expectation is that everyone—patients, payers, policymakers, and faculty—everywhere should benefit too. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Hudis reported no potential conflicts of interest.