At the age of seven, Roger S. Wilson already knew that he wanted to help others through the practice of medicine — a personal mission that still provides his daily motivation as Chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine and Chairman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Institutional Review Board.
My interest in medicine goes back to my early childhood, when I was hospitalized for tuberculosis. For a number of years, beginning at the age of seven, I was in and out of hospitals, sometimes for months at a time, battling the disease. Throughout the process, I was greatly inspired by the people who helped me, and I knew from that point on that I was going to be a doctor.
The only question I had was my choice of specialty. During my medical training, I spent a good deal of time working with anesthesiologists in the operating room, and I decided that this was the career I wanted to pursue. Anesthesiology was intriguing to me because it was a relatively new specialty, which, at the time, in the late 1960s, was breaking ground with the development of new techniques, drugs, and monitoring methods.
Once the decision had been made, I was very fortunate to do both my residency and a clinical fellowship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, which, in terms of evolving research, had one of the most prominent anesthesiology faculties in the country.
After the fellowship, I followed Richard Kitz, a senior attending physician at Columbia, when he became chairman of anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital. I enjoyed my time at Mass General enough to stay for the next 21 years. Rising through the ranks, I assumed responsibility both in intensive care and anesthesiology, ultimately becoming medical director of both the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit and the Respiratory Care Department. During this same period, I was fortunate enough to develop the Thoracic Anesthesia Service, and I was involved in helping to establish the liver and lung transplant services — all of which allowed me to combine my interests in research, critical care medicine, and anesthesia. Again, as has become a theme in my professional life, I had the opportunity to work at an exciting place, with exciting people, at an exciting time.
After more than two decades at Mass General, I decided that I wanted a new challenge. I had looked at chairman positions elsewhere, and had always decided not to take them because they offered less than what I was already doing. It was different when I looked at Memorial Sloan-Kettering — a fascinating place staffed by very bright people, who were on the cutting edge of research and clinical practice. I found the Center’s mission to be an exciting one. So exciting, in fact, that in 1991 I made the mission my own, joining Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as Chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine.
There was a solid foundation in the department when I arrived, but I also had the opportunity to expand the research activities within the department and to broaden the presence and scope of the department within the institution. In the 13 years I’ve been at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the reach of the Anesthesiology Department has expanded beyond the operating room, moving into interventional radiology, the pediatric outpatient setting, and a number of diagnostic procedures such as MRI and CT scanning, where various forms of anesthesia are required.
Then, in 1995, I was asked to assume the chairmanship of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), a responsibility I gladly and eagerly accepted.
The IRB’s primary function is to protect each and every person involved in our research studies, reviewing and approving all research protocols that involve human subjects and continuing with oversight throughout the clinical trial process. The IRB’s other, equally important responsibility is to educate our staff, making them aware of the full spectrum of rules and regulations pertaining to human-subject research. As part of the education mission, we work in conjunction with Collette Houston in the Office of Clinical Research, developing new educational programs to describe and explain newly introduced regulatory guidelines.
In recent years, there has been a real push, especially at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, to combine basic science with clinical research and potential curative therapies. This is an exciting time with great promise, but it also raises new, potentially sensitive issues for human research studies — issues that we have worked hard to stay on top of, as always, doing everything within our means to safeguard the patients who participate in all of our clinical trials.
Our entire team has established a strong oversight infrastructure for research involving human subjects. In many respects, our system has become a model for other institutions, a fact I’m very proud of. Still, we’re always looking for ways to improve the process. This is something that is very important to me, personally, and to the institution as a whole.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that I’m involved in all of these critically important responsibilities. I get up each morning looking forward to going to work, and I come home almost every night with a sense that I’ve accomplished something Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s a phenomenal institution. Every day, great strides are made in the way in which we treat people with cancer. For this reason, I can sincerely say that my work here is the fulfillment of all my childhood hopes and aspirations.