Matthew Matasar almost didn’t become a doctor. The lymphoma specialist and new Chief of the Medical Oncology Service at MSK Bergen initially sought a career in philosophy, until he rethought the kind of impact he wanted to make.
“I said, ‘Even if I’m a great philosopher, I’ll probably manage to touch only 100 lives,’ ” he recalls. “That wasn’t enough for me.”
After beginning medical school with the goal of becoming a medical ethicist — using his philosophy studies in a whole new way — Dr. Matasar realized that what really energized him was caring for patients. He hasn’t looked back since.
Recently, Dr. Matasar became Chief of the Medical Oncology Service at MSK Bergen, the newest regional outpatient facility for MSK patients. At MSK Bergen, people can receive many of the same services they would in Manhattan. Along with MSK Monmouth and MSK Basking Ridge, the facility is a member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering–Hackensack Meridian Health Partnership.
Here, he shares what led him to his new role, his plans for MSK Bergen, and how he spends his time off the clock.
What most excites you about the opening of MSK Bergen?
It’s an opportunity to start something from scratch, and to build a center, team, and program that operate the MSK way. It brings what we do best to a new region. That’s really exciting.Back to top
What drew you to the opportunity?
Personally, I’m excited to hang my shingle and say that I’m offering my expertise and the expertise of the entire MSK lymphoma team. When we gather for our weekly meetings and talk about our patients, in that room is 300 years of experience in the treatment of people with lymphoma. We are the world’s preeminent lymphoma service, and to be able to bring that with me is exciting. We’ve put together a team of experts — each embedded into a team like mine, each bringing their personal expertise and MSK’s expertise.Back to top
What sets MSK Bergen apart from other facilities?
What sets MSK Bergen apart is what sets MSK apart. MSK Bergen is just MSK in Bergen County. It is a team approach to care, bringing together the collective experience of surgeons, radiation oncologists, nurses, medical oncologists, therapists, dietitians, social workers, and others. We’re providing advanced resources, like cutting-edge clinical trials, to write the future of the standard of care. There has been a lot of gratitude from the community.Back to top
Once you decided to become a doctor, what led you to oncology and, specifically, to lymphoma?
In medical school, I really fell in love with taking care of patients, and I couldn’t imagine leaving them. I thought, Where could I be most impactful? And that was oncology. Who your oncologist is — their heart, head, knowledge, passion, and caring — defines the patient experience. I came to MSK as a fellow to find my way, and while here, I was introduced to world-class lymphoma specialists. I was fascinated by the challenges they faced and by the diversity of the different types of lymphoma.Back to top
Why is an oncologist’s heart so important?
It’s not just about expertise and intelligence. It’s also about being kind and caring doctors, the kind of people you want to work alongside and who deserve the trust of their patients. At MSK Bergen, we’re building a culture not just of excellence but compassion. Trust, kindness, and caring are hard to measure but fundamental to the experience of what it means to give and receive care.
How has treatment for lymphoma changed in recent years?
It is profoundly exciting to be a lymphoma specialist right now because there’s a reasonable chance that any morning you wake up there’s going to be something new. The excitement and energy in our field is palpable. Immunotherapy has been a game changer. There have been more new treatments in the past five years than in the 30 years before, and there will probably be more approved in the next five years than the last. The pace of change, of whole new avenues and approaches of therapy, is breakneck. And we at MSK are not just watching this but leading it.Back to top
You have three young children. Do they keep you busy when you’re not working?
Yes! They’re seven, ten, and 12. I’m tremendously grateful for the life that I have because I wake up excited to go to work and leave every day excited to go home. I love nothing more than spending time with my wife and kids: playing board games, walking the dog, playing Frisbee, taking a hike, or just watching a movie. The time you spend together is irreplaceable, and being present to watch my kids grow is a perpetual delight.Back to top