Meet Physician-in-Chief Lisa DeAngelis

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VIDEO | 06:25

Lisa DeAngelis talks about her upbringing, her early career at MSK, and her top priorities as physician-in-chief.

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Ami Schmitz: Hello, and welcome to this very special edition of MSKTV. I'm Ami Schmitz here in conversation with Dr. Lisa DeAngelis, our Physician-in-Chief. Welcome.

Lisa DeAngelis, MD: Happy to be here.

AS: So, I read that you first decided you wanted to be a doctor when you were in the third grade.

LD: I don't know why I decided that, but it was a very strong conviction that sort of just came over me and became my mission.

AS: Talk to me about your parents.

LD: They were wonderful. We were all girls and they always let us think that we could do whatever we wanted to do. My father had a very strong conviction that women actually had to take care of themselves and not depend upon a man to do that.

AS: Do you remember your parents' reaction when you definitively said, “I'm applying to medical school. This is what I want to do.”?

LD: They were very supportive. I will say my father was way ahead of me in understanding the impact of that. He says, “you have to be committed to using this education.” And the other thing is he said, “you have to promise me you will never turn away somebody who can't pay.”

AS: How has that in particular stayed with you?

LD: I think it's really part of our commitment at a place like MSK to figure out not only the very best cancer care, but how to try and make it more affordable.

AS: When you first learned that you had gotten the job as Physician-in-Chief, who was the first person that you called?

LD: My husband. His reaction was "of course, they gave you the job" because he's my biggest fan and, of course, totally unbiased. But he's been incredibly supportive throughout this whole journey.

AS: There's a rumor that when it was announced that you were Physician-in-Chief that eruptions of applause happened across some departments.

LD: I'm very honored and really thrilled that they view this as something that we're in together.

AS: Talk to me about the critical importance of philanthropy.

LD: Philanthropy is absolutely essential to our mission, particularly our missions of research and education. You cannot get a grant without preliminary data. You can't get preliminary data without funding, and philanthropy often fills that gap. Another major gap that philanthropic dollars support is in the realm of clinical trials, which is something that is not really supported by any other source of money.

AS: If there's one top priority that you want to tackle in your first year, full year, as Physician-in-Chief, what would that be?

LD: I think really putting our attention to the faculty and staff; really understanding the stresses that they’re under and doing what we can to relieve those stresses so that they can continue to give our patients the best care possible.

AS: So, there's the job that you have to do, but there's also the responsibility of being a role model for so many women here at MSK.

LD: I feel like I have been in a position that has carried that responsibility, if you will, for a long time. I never think about how should I, as a woman, tackle a given problem. I just tackle the problem.

AS: We have a few photos that we have dug up.

LD: Uh-oh. Will I need my glasses?

AS: Here is the first one, young Lisa.

LD: Yes. That's got to be…

AS: 1992?

LD: I was going to say it's more than 20 years ago.

AS: What would you say to her now that she didn't know back then?

LD: "Hang in there." In 1992, I had young children at home, balancing family, work… developing a career was hard. And so, I would say, “be patient with yourself.”

AS: This man is a person you know well, Jerome Posner.

LD: Jerome Posner, yes.

AS: Talk to me about the influence and the relationship that you had.

LD: Jerry Posner is the reason I came to MSK as a fellow. He really is considered by many to be the founder of the field of neuro-oncology. He constantly would go into the fellows’ room and say, "Look at this gait. Look at this. What do you think this is?" I mean, it was just such a rich, rich experience.

AS: So, last photo. Tell us who this is.

LD: My son, my oldest son Daniel. This is a picture of him at his white coat ceremony when he started medical school at Yale. It's been really wonderful to see how he has evolved, and he has decided to pursue a career as a physician-scientist.

AS: When a young physician seeks your advice, what do you tell them?

LD: So, Ami, I try not to give advice. I try, first of all, to listen, to hear what it is that they want out of their career. Then I may be able to provide some guidance into how they get there.

AS: How important is it in your mind for a Physician-in-Chief to still be a hands-on doctor?

LD: Well, it's important for me. It's essential to remain connected to patients and families, to grapple with the challenges patients face, but also to remember why we're here.