Lessons Learned in my Practice

In November 2016, POGO welcomed Dr. David Hodgson as its new Medical Director and Chair in Childhood Cancer Control. Here are Dr. Hodgson’s remarks on the occasion of his welcome reception at the University of Toronto’s Massey College. 

David Hodgson MD Chair Oct 2016In the summer of 1989 I came to the Associate Dean’s office, about 800m from here, for my medical school admissions interview. At that time, admissions interviews were done after the med school applicants had already accepted, so the stakes were low.

We discussed undergraduate experience, my hopes for medical school, and after about 20 minutes, the Dean asks me, “Are you excited about going to medical school?” I said, “Sure, why do you ask?” He replied, “Well you don’t look very excited.” I told a friend in grad school about this and he said I should have answered, “Are you excited about being Dean?” But I didn’t say that, which in part is why I’m here today.

I learned a lot in medical school, but of course many of the most important lessons were learned afterward, and two in particular I’ll mention today.

Only after some time in practice did I learn the first lesson, which was to appreciate how scared our patients and their families are. The writer James Hollingsworth wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that there is something more important than fear.”

And what greater fear could there be than to have what one values most – one’s life, or even more so the life of one’s child – taken away? Imagine how it feels to give a group of strangers permission to surgically remove parts of your child’s body, irradiate them, and give them so much chemotherapy that their bone marrow is wiped out, saved only by a plastic bag of stem cells kept in a freezer. But every day we have the privilege of helping families who give us permission to do exactly that, with incredible courage, because they work towards something more important than their fear: a normal healthy life for their child.

The second lesson is that it’s harder than I expected it would be to be a good doctor; to consistently provide high quality care. Now, fortunately, we work in a system that for the most part facilitates good care, and one only needs to talk to our counterparts around the world to see how lucky we are to work where we do.

But our knowledge is incomplete, our treatments imperfect, our resources limited, and we battle inefficiencies and bureaucratic absurdities that can wear us down. Too often we are not able to deliver the healthy life that our patients and their parents hope for.

That is why the work of POGO, in collaboration with the tertiary care centres and satellite clinics that make up the pediatric oncology system, is so important. Work to roll out new treatments in a timely and equitable way, to provide financial support for families being crushed by out-of-pocket costs, to offer academic and vocational support for survivors to succeed long after treatment is over, and to conduct research to further improve system performance. This is critical work that POGO does that benefits patients for sure, but make no mistake, also benefits everyone in this room trying to reduce the burden of childhood cancer care in Ontario.

So I’d like to say that I am very excited to do my part to help with this important work – work that strives to be worthy of the courage of our patients and their families, and that allows us to provide the kind of care we aspired to give when we started school.

And Dean Young, just so you know:  this is what it looks like when I’m excited, in case you didn’t recognize it.

— Dr. David Hodgson, POGO Medical Director and Chair in Childhood Cancer Control, November 28, 2016

Read more about Dr. David Hodgson

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