Key attributes: attitude, approach, intensity, toughness

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Another close call -- just made it onto the early flight. The research meetings at the National Cancer Institute were lively, useful and inspiring. But getting onto this flight means that I may catch part of my son's Little League baseball game.

Having spent a few days at a recent Texas A&M baseball camp with my son, I cannot help but think of how so much of what was taught there applies to my work as a physician, educator and researcher.

The college coach at the camp stressed the importance of four attributes:

• Attitude
• Approach
• Intensity
• Toughness

For them, attitude involves having confidence in one's ability and preparation, and understanding the goal is to win as a team. For me, attitude involves a similar confidence -- knowing that I can apply my knowledge and skills with integrity and compassion to contribute to the care of individuals, or to teaching or research, that has that same ultimate aim.

Approach is your willingness to do your job, at any given time, within the confines of the "pack" (if you're an Aggie ballplayer) or confines of the medical system and highest professional standards (if you are me).

Intensity is the passion for the activity. Ballplayers love to play baseball and I love to care for patients, teach colleagues and learn from them, discover and apply new knowledge. The flame burns intensely bright.

And what about toughness? Toughness is the ability to maintain your attitude, approach and intensity in the face of adversity. Baseball is full of failures -- players must have resilience. And failure is part of cancer medicine, too. Well-planned and executed treatments do not always succeed. Clinical trials do not always succeed or lead to useful new approaches. Toughness is critical.

As a cancer physician, I found this quote in the Aggies' clubhouse inspiring for my line of work: "Don't ever forget how close we were, or how close we are ... earn it every day."

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