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Playing for a common goal -- our patients

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The e-mail subject line said "homework assignment." The message was from a colleague trying to prepare me for an upcoming media workshop. The trainer wants me to think about my department and talk about the "human element" in our programs and activities.

It occurs to me that this homework assignment is appropriate to any endeavor. It's no different than the starting point for the Texas A&M Aggies baseball team, at least the way they taught their philosophy of baseball to my son and his teammates at their weekend baseball camp in January. I know, because I was there ... taking notes like I was in medical school ... like I was a student and ready for a homework assignment.  

The very first question the Aggies' coach asked these 10-year-old campers: "Who do you play for?" The coach explained that they're not playing to impress their parents or friends, or to get on the all-star team. The answer for the Aggies is that they play for their team, and the goal is to win championships.

At M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, the goal is different, but the question "who are these programs and activities for" is no less critical. It's all for the patient -- the individual patient who is facing illness or a threat of illness. The focus is on how do we, working together with other health care providers as a team, identify appropriate goals for that person and his/her family, and make it happen.

It's no war on cancer and not even about being the best cancer hospital on the planet. It's about caring deeply for individuals and finding ways to help them live fully. Whether I'm evaluating a patient with a newly diagnosed malignancy, helping a cancer survivor understand his/her children's risk for developing the same cancer, or discussing the issue of recruitment of minority/underserved patients to clinical trials with research colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, it all boils down to the same thing.

It's the human element -- how to care for patients, applying everything we know about science, about compassion, about communication and negotiating goals of care. It's about human systems and teamwork, to get the job done for each individual

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