Many melanoma patients know Patrick Hwu, M.D., as the oncologist and immunology expert who saved their lives. But Hwu, who has headed up our Melanoma and Sarcoma departments, now also leads our largest academic division: Cancer Medicine.
We recently spoke with Dr. Hwu to learn more about what drives and inspires him both here at MD Anderson and at home. Here's what he had to say.
Where were you raised? I grew up in St. Albans, West Virginia, which had only 13,000 residents at that time. I often think about MD Anderson having more people than my hometown.
What words best describe you? Passionate, committed and enthusiastic.
What gives you the most pride? My wife and I have two teenage daughters. While I'm glad they're excellent students and involved in many worthwhile activities, I'm most proud that they're genuinely kind. I believe being kind to others is the most important thing in life.
What's something people would be surprised to know about you? I'm an open book, so I'm not sure there's much that would be a surprise. Some may not know I considered careers in law and journalism, as well as medicine. I was editor of my school newspaper and even did an internship at the Charleston Gazette, where the editor advised me to be a doctor. I do a lot of writing as an academic oncologist, so I've been able to incorporate that aspiration into my career.
What drew you to the field of cancer? One of my childhood friends had leukemia, so I saw the need for better therapies at a young age. I also really like a challenge and working as a team on something that makes a difference in the world. I'm so appreciative to be able to make a living doing something I love and contributing to something that's bigger than me or any person.
You play keyboard for MD Anderson's band, The Checkmates. What role does music play in your life? I took classical piano lessons growing up, but I got more from learning on my own, because it allowed me to be more improvisational (plus, I really preferred rock and roll music). For me, music is an extension of my love of teams -- I love being part of a band. It's taught me many life lessons, such as learning to listen and not play over others. I think doing something that uses your right brain helps you be more creative and enhances your work and life in general.
You see patients, conduct research, lead large teams, co-direct our immunotherapy platform and help negotiate deals with drug companies through Strategic Industry Ventures. How do you successfully juggle so many responsibilities? I joined MD Anderson from the National Cancer Institute in 2003. What attracted me were the amazing teams across MD Anderson. I'm surrounded by talented people, and my philosophy is to develop others to fulfill their leadership potential. When you enable and trust leaders on your team, you don't become the bottleneck, and your efforts become amplified. I'm very fortunate to be working with many talented people.
What advice has helped you? Never stop learning, within your field, but also about yourself. You have to understand and manage yourself well before you can manage others well.
This article originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.