Robert Buckman, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Robert Buckman teaches you to say, "the wrong thing" in the right way, and keeps you laughing as you learn. Robert Buckman, M.D., Ph.D.A world-class expert on interpersonal communications, Dr. Buckman established many of the principles and protocols in this area, and his techniques are taught at hospitals and medical schools around the world. He was a medical oncologist at the Princess Margaret Hospital, a professor at the University of Toronto, and adjunct professor at MD Anderson. Communicating difficult messages was always one of Dr. Buckman's critical skills, and laughter was some of his best medicine.

Buckman's projects mix his passion for communication and his Monty Python background. He teamed up with his long-standing friend John Cleese to produce a video series for patients and their doctors, explaining in laymen's terms the symptoms and treatment of common illnesses, from angina to breast cancer. This ongoing series earned a bronze award from the British Medical Association.

The I*CARE team would like to acknowledge Dr. Buckman’s contribution to our program.  We are extremely saddened to hear of the untimely death of our dear colleague and friend whose creativity and skills inspired this website. He appears in many of the still timely video scenarios which are shown on this web site as examples of skillful communication. Our collaboration with Dr. Buckman began over ten years ago when we produced a DVD entitled "A Practical Guide to Communication Skills in Cancer Care". Afterwards, he regularly came to MD Anderson to help in the production of additional material which illustrates competencies in patient communication including the award winning "Crossroads" video.

Most of all, he was a great friend. He had a huge intellect and great imagination which were always bristling with ideas. His fourteen books and many scientific articles can attest to this. His affability was contagious and he had a keen sense of humor which he wove into his presentations and into the books that he wrote. He was a slight man and not always well but he put extraordinary energy into projects he worked on. He had a knack for making a special connection with people; whether it be his patients or appearances on TV or simply someone he would chat with on the elevator.  

He has been described as brilliant, kind, and humanistic, yet these terms truly fall short. He was a kind and gentle man who had an extraordinary ability to not just communicate with people, but to truly relate to them. He could make you laugh when you wanted to cry. He was kind and supportive, and able to delicately describe what families could expect when their loved one was experiencing devastating illness. He understood the complications and chaos that cancer can bring into people's lives and he knew how to help people cope with the despair that comes with the perpetual uncertainty that cancer brings to patients, families and healthcare providers. All of these attributes were evident when we filmed him and it was amazing to see him transform printed words into something that everyone could relate to.

The video and workbook, "On Being An Oncologist" project would not have been possible without Dr. Buckman. It took a great deal of imagination and shear will to get it done. It is a great product of which we are all very proud. William Hurt, the famous actor who volunteered his time to work with us on the production, says that it is one of his proudest pieces of work.

We cannot think of him without smiling...his charisma, charm, infectious smile and impish grin. He was a delight to work with – funny, erudite, brilliant, and self-deprecating. His enthusiasm was infectious and he urged us on with his "we're going to take over the world" gung-ho attitude and joy. He was also very kind and generous and known to make a special effort to counsel patients and help them face the reality of illness often giving his cell phone number out.  

He was a remarkable man.  He made a huge impact on the I*CARE Web site, not only through his work, but through his friendships. Our Web site will never quite be the same, but his extraordinary wisdom will live on forever through the videos he took such great care to make for us. It is best summed up in this quote from American transgressional fiction novelist and freelance journalist, Chuck Palahniuk:  

“We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."

Walter F. Baile, MD, I*CARE Program Director, Department of Faculty & Academic Career Enhancement (FACE)
Cathy Kirkwood, MPH, I*CARE Project Director, Department of Faculty & Academic Career Enhancement (FACE)
Janis Apted Yadiny, MLS, Associate Vice President, Department of Faculty & Academic Career Enhancement (FACE)

To read more about Dr. Buckman's life and career go to: Wikipedia