Peter WT Pisters, M.D., MHCM, returned to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center as its president on Dec. 1, 2017. He previously served the institution in faculty and leadership positions for more than 20 years. His appointment to the presidential post followed an international search and unanimous naming as sole finalist by The University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Renowned as a cancer surgeon, researcher, professor and hospital administrator, Pisters earned his medical degree at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He completed his master’s degree in health care administration at Harvard University School of Public Health and did his postgraduate work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he was chief administrative fellow. He earned designation as a Certified Physician Executive in 2014 and was named a fellow of both the American College of Healthcare Executives and the American College of Surgeons.
Prior to rejoining MD Anderson, Pisters led more than 14,000 employees and 1,700 physicians as president and chief executive officer of the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, Canada. UHN is Canada’s largest academic medical center. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, which recently ranked as the 12th most outstanding academic institution in the world, UHN has a $400 million research enterprise. It advances studies in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, genomic medicine and rehabilitation medicine. In Toronto, Pisters also served as president and chief executive officer of The Michener Institute of Education and professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto.
Originally arriving at MD Anderson in 1994, Pisters joined the faculty as an assistant professor of Surgery. He rose to full professor with tenure in 2004 and was repeatedly honored during his two decades at MD Anderson, earning two Fellows Outstanding Teacher awards and three Faculty Excellence awards. Pisters became medical director and eventually vice president for MD Anderson’s regional care system, comprising of multiple Houston-area locations. He previously serves as clinical consultant for the Center of Global Oncology (now MD Anderson Cancer Network®), section chief for Sarcoma Surgery and assistant medical director of the Sarcoma Center. He specialized in helping patients with sarcomas and gastrointestinal (GI) cancers and remains a board-certified surgeon.
Pisters is a member of more than two dozen national organizations and currently serves or has served in leadership positions on the advisory boards of numerous others, including several for the National Cancer Institute. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Oncology and Surgery and serves as a reviewer for multiple others. His own research, focused on sarcomas, GI cancers and other malignancies, has resulted in nearly 400 peer-reviewed and additional articles, book chapters, teaching aids and other publications.
Peter WT Pisters, M.D., MD Anderson’s fifth full-time president, began his role Dec. 1, with a renewed spirit of unity and excitement. Like each of us here, Pisters feels a deep connection to MD Anderson, our mission and the patients we serve.
Pisters built his career here for 20 years as a cancer surgeon, researcher, professor and administrator. He left in 2014 to oversee the University Health Network, affiliated with the University of Toronto, the largest hospital-based research program in Canada.
He began his presidency at MD Anderson by attending New Employee Orientation, followed by rounding and interacting with employees in all four mission areas of patient care, research, education and prevention. Committed to learning everything he can about MD Anderson, Pisters continues to engage stakeholders at all levels and in all areas to hear about our strengths and where we might improve.
We recently sat down with Pisters to learn a little more about him. Here’s what he had to say.
What word best describes you?
What prepared you for your role as MD Anderson’s president?
The most important preparation I had was the privilege of caring for cancer patients as an MD Anderson faculty member for 20 years. My understanding of frontline cancer-fighting experience here at MD Anderson gives me deep insight into our mission and culture. Also, I know that my master’s degree in health care management and my experience as chief executive officer at University Health Network in Toronto provided solid academic training and chief executive leadership experience that are absolutely essential for me to serve our organization as president.
As you’ve traveled around MD Anderson recently, what have you learned?
I am in the midst of an intensive and immersive process to connect with and learn from everyone at MD Anderson. Among the extensive amount I have learned so far, I am most impressed with our momentum and trajectory. There is a feeling of hope, optimism, enthusiasm and energy that is like nothing I have seen or experienced before!
What was your first job?
My first job was mowing lawns at age 14.
Why is being a life-long learner important to you?
I get intellectually stale if I’m not continually learning. That is the main reason I’m continuously reading, and it explains my motivation and drive to go back to school for more education.
You use a lot of sports references. What’s your sport of choice? Did you play sports?
Baseball and college football! Of course I follow the Houston Astros and with one of our kids at Ohio State University, I follow the Buckeyes closely! Yes, I played baseball, hockey and soccer growing up and coached our kids in a variety of sports.
What’s something you’ve learned from patients?
Humility and courage. This was so poignantly expressed in the letters and cards that I’ve received from patients. When my return to MD Anderson was announced, so many of them reconnected with me to share updates on their personal cancer journeys.
How do you manage stress?
Through exercise and reading. I aim for exercise four times per week and can include both aerobic and strength training. Running helps me to disconnect into a different world and stimulate both my body and my brain through podcasts and audiobooks.
Best or worst advice ever received?
Best advice: Before accepting an offer in New York, I was advised to look at an assistant professor position at MD Anderson. My life changed forever after that.
What’s one thing you’d like others to know about you?
I lead with a strong moral compass and dedicate myself to personal core values that include integrity, hard work and life-long learning.
What’s one thing you’d like others to know about MD Anderson?
Diversity is one of our biggest strengths. Just look at the amazing photo that was taken of me with my orientation group at new employee orientation!
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s quarterly publication for employees, volunteers, retirees and their families.
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Pisters' Travels Around MD Anderson
Pisters visits the Molecular Cellular Oncology laboratory to learn more about the latest research.
Pisters suits up to meet with the sterile processing team.
Pisters tours the site of the new League City location.
Pisters tours our Intensive Care Unit.
Pisters tours a genetics laboratory with Nicholas Navin, Ph.D.
Pisters cuts the ribbon for Craig’s Court, a basketball court in our children’s hospital honoring Craig Sager.
Pisters tours our core facilities on our south campus.
Pisters meets with students at the School of Health Professions.
Pisters visits inpatients receiving treatment.
Pisters meets with Brayden Rivera, a 7-year-old who made a donation to help cancer patients like his mom.
Pisters meets with Jim Allison, Ph.D., to learn the latest about his groundbreaking research.
Pisters stops by Houston-area locations to meet with staff and patients.