Applying the Power of Knowledge to Drive Positive Change in Oncology Care

A Conversation With Robin T. Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO, 2024–2025 ASCO President

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An ASCO volunteer for nearly 30 years, Robin T. Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO, is humbled and honored to be elected ASCO’s 61st President, effective during the 2024 ASCO Annual Meeting, May 31 to June 4, 2024, in Chicago and online. Dr. Zon began her 4-year term in June 2023 as President-Elect and will become Chair of the Board in 2025, during the third year of her term, followed by her fourth year as Past President.

“Every ASCO President brings an incredible perspective that furthers the progress of cancer care. It is really wonderful that someone with my type of experience has been able to rise to the level of being elected ASCO President,” said Dr. Zon.

Robin T. Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO

Robin T. Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO

Dr. Zon’s career in medical oncology and longtime active volunteerism in ASCO positioned her well to take on this next role as ASCO President. Her work as an ASCO volunteer garnered several awards in recognition of her efforts, including ASCO’s Advocate of the Year award in 2017 and ASCO’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 2020. Dr. Zon has chaired several committees, including ASCO’s Government Relations Committee, Clinical Practice Committee, and the ASCO Pathways Task Force, and co-chaired the ASCO Telemedicine Standards Expert Committee. She also has served on the Board of Directors from 2010 to 2013.

Stronger Together

Dr. Zon’s oncology career intersects every aspect of the field, including research, public policy, business leadership, patient advocacy, and patient care. This has provided her with a panoramic view of the challenges ahead and the primary principles of her Presidential theme: “Driving Knowledge to Action. Building a Better Future.”

“My theme is based on two very strong beliefs I have to improve cancer care: knowledge and action. First, when you universally apply the power of knowledge, you can drive positive change. Knowledge is not only going to help us solve our problems, but also help us make better informed decisions,” said Dr. Zon. “Second, to drive knowledge to action and build a better future for our patients, all of us—researchers, clinicians, patients, payers, government agencies, and industry and community leaders—must be committed to equitable, evidence-based decision-making, because together we are stronger than cancer.”

Building a Multifaceted Career in Oncology

Dr. Zon’s interest in oncology began when she heard then President Nixon’s “War on Cancer” decree in 1971. It was reinforced at age 15 as she witnessed the declining health and then death of her grandfather from superior vena cava syndrome. Before earning her medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine in 1992, Dr. Zon worked for Dow Chemical in basic and translational research and Boehringer Mannheim Diagnostics, where she also developed project management and business skills. According to Dr. Zon, that experience helped catapult her to leadership positions across the oncology field, including Medical Director of Oncology Research at Memorial Hospital of South Bend, and a decade-long stint as Principal Investigator for the Northern Indiana Cancer Research Consortium.

In 1998, Dr. Zon joined Michiana Hematology Oncology, PC, and, in 2019, she was elected President of the practice. Dr. Zon is currently Physician Emeritus at Michiana Hematology Oncology in Mishawaka, Indiana, and a consultant with Cincinnati Cancer Advisors, an organization dedicated to improving cancer care by helping patients seeking a second opinion obtain a free consultation and navigation assistance to ensure an optimized care plan.

In a wide-ranging discussion with The ASCO Post, Dr. Zon talked about the tectonic shift happening in oncology as the result of several factors, especially the quickly evolving artificial intelligence (AI) tools in patient care; the challenges ahead, including ensuring equitable patient-centered care for all patients with cancer and the current and looming workforce shortage; and the opportunities to improve patient care both in the United States and worldwide.

Getting Involved in Public Policy to Improve Cancer Care

Please talk about how your Presidential theme, “Driving Knowledge to Action. Building a Better Future,” can help deliver more effective cancer care for patients.

My theme very accurately reflects what I’ve been doing all my life as an oncologist, which is exactly the premise of my theme: driving knowledge to action to build a better future for patients with cancer. There are three pillars that support my Presidential theme. The first is emerging technology. AI-based tools in oncology care are here in the research and clinical settings and can assist in closing the knowledge gap in cancer care and helping reduce administrative burden. However, what is most important to me as AI technology develops in our field is that it ensures equitable patient-centered care.

The second pillar is the power of advocacy. ASCO has been at the forefront of evidence-based advocacy to help inform public policy decisions for a long time. ASCO has long been a strong and effective voice for cancer care and patients legislatively on the federal level. Now more than ever, ASCO is making legislative and regulatory progress at the state level. Today, because most patients are being treated locally—in their own communities—we’ve increasingly seen how effective state advocacy can be. Laws in one state often can serve as a catalyst for other states to take action or provide a model for federal policy. Since cancer care is local, I am promoting increased member participation with our State Affiliate Council. Over the past 30 years, our state affiliates have grown in strength and in their leverage to advance cancer care policy at the state level, and ASCO is committed to continuing to illuminate our voices.

For example, ASCO has the ACT Network (, which helps members connect with their local lawmakers about their concerns within the oncology community. One of my goals during my Presidential term is to increase member participation from all practice types in the ACT Network.

When I think about advocacy, it is not just the advocacy we do on a legislative or regulatory level. It’s the advocacy that happens in the community in which we practice that is important as well. I would like to see tools developed to help clinicians in their daily practice to remain the authority for their patients’ care. That means being able to advocate and negotiate for their patients’ needs with local administrators, whether they are hospital- or practice-based, investor-driven, or local payers (including employers).

And that point segues very nicely into my third pillar to support members: embracing our community. I have been blessed this year to see the passion ASCO members have for their patients. By sharing our experiences and that passion with our global membership, they hopefully will spark more innovation in cancer care. I also want to challenge our members to invest at the local level in stronger workforce development, ensuring providers for the future.

My theme and my goals are aligned with ASCO’s mission to conquer cancer through research, education, and promotion of the highest quality, equitable patient care while supporting ASCO’s strategic goals surrounding access, profession, and knowledge.

Ensuring Greater Patient-Centric Care

You have been a longtime advocate on behalf of patients. How will incorporating the patient experience into cancer care be a part of your tenure as President of ASCO?

I alluded to the emerging AI-based technologies in cancer care previously and how, as these tools evolve, we need to be very mindful that they be patient-centered. ASCO realizes that our goals of conquering cancer can only be accomplished by incorporating patients and their care into everything the Society does. So, strategies for ensuring equitable, patient-centered care for all patients are already embedded in our programs and will be a continued area of growth for ASCO over my Presidential tenure and in the years to come.

I challenge our community to ask how we can make our practices and research efforts more patient-centric. For example, when we were participating in a Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP), we had a patient council made up of members from diverse communities that advised me about improving participation in clinical trials.

What are the goals you hope to accomplish during your tenure? What do you anticipate will be your greatest challenges?

I like to characterize challenges as opportunities, so the real question is: what are my greatest opportunities? ASCO is working on several fronts to address the most pressing issues impacting patients and our profession: drug shortages, workforce burnout, Maintenance of Certification programs, and increasing regulatory and administrative burdens for oncology practices.

As a longtime advocate on behalf of community practices, I’d like to take a minute to address how I intend to support them during my tenure. I want all practices, no matter where the site of service takes place, including urban and rural locations, academic centers and community practice settings, and hospital-based care, to have the resources available to deliver high-quality, equitable cancer care.

To accomplish that goal, we are looking to develop new innovative tools to assist clinical practice care teams to advocate for patients when dealing with business administrators, payers, and community stakeholders, such as employers, who are often left out of these conversations. The practice of medicine—today and in the future—involves more than caring for the patient. We have an opportunity to lead the business side of medicine, which prioritizes patient-centric care and aligns with the values of ASCO and of our profession. As a result, I am excited to share ASCO’s ongoing development of a business of oncology playbook to enable members to participate and lead in business functions of their practice. ASCO is developing this online business playbook for members to educate themselves on basic business terms, concepts, and practices that are relevant and necessary to provide high-quality clinical care.

Supporting the Global Community

Approximately one-third of ASCO members practice outside the United States, and one-quarter practice in low- and middle-income countries. Please talk about how you plan to expand ASCO’s outreach to other countries.

In alignment with ASCO’s strategic goal of making a global impact, over a year ago, ASCO’s Board of Directors elected to expand free membership to physicians from low- and middle-income countries, and the response has been incredible. Our goal is to enable all members of the global oncology community to participate in ASCO, so they have access to all the research, education, and quality practice tools they need to deliver high-quality cancer care no matter where they live and work. I am so proud of ASCO for offering free membership to clinicians in low-resource countries, which will help them become active participants in so many areas within our organization.

Another initiative that ASCO has undertaken to help support our global community is the expansion of our regional councils across the globe. Currently, we have four active regional councils—Asia Pacific, Latin American, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe—and the expectation is that we will establish more regional councils in the future. How can we know what the needs are of patients living in these regions unless we have leaders on the ground helping us understand and respond to their unique challenges in patient care in their region and to guide ASCO’s international activities?

This will be an eventful year for our members both here and internationally. I’m excited to take on this leadership role to help members in their mission to improve patient-centered cancer care, address cancer equity and diversity, support clinical practice wherever it takes place, and advocate for policies to support high-quality care for patients everywhere. 

DISCLOSURE: Dr. Zon owns stock in AC3, Cytosorbents, Moderna, Oncolytics Biotech, TG Therapeutics, Select Sector SPDR Health Care, AstraZeneca, Crispr, McKesson, Athenex, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, ARK Genomic Revolution, iShafes Biotechnology ETF, Vanguard World Healthcare ETF, Berkshire Hathaway, and Seagen; and has served as a consultant to Cincinnati Cancer Advisors.