First person: Getting to know cardiothoracic surgeon Stephen Swisher, M.D.
History buff is just one way to describe Stephen Swisher, M.D. He's also a husband and father of two, head of our Surgery division, an honored professor in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, and co-leader of MD Anderson's Lung Cancer Moon Shot -- our own history-making endeavor in the world of medicine.
How do you view your current role here?
I see myself as a surgeon but also as a division leader and an advocate for surgeons. I try to help communicate other surgeons' points-of-view at MD Anderson.
What influenced you to become a cardiothoracic surgeon?
No one in my family had a career in medicine. I became interested in medicine after I took a course in biology. The anatomy of the chest is particularly interesting and exciting to me. During my general surgery residency at the University of California at Los Angeles, a cardiothoracic surgeon and researcher I worked with influenced my decision to complete my fellowship in surgical oncology. Also, the chief of surgical oncology at that time, demonstrated to me the process of taking research findings and using them to improve surgery for cancer patients. That's something I've come to especially appreciate in my co-leadership of the Lung Cancer Moon Shot.
What inspires you to come to work every day?
Our patients and how appreciative they are of what we do. Cancer is so impactful on the entire family, and families tend to rally during those times. That's inspiring to see. It makes you cognizant of what they're going through.
What's the biggest challenge you've overcome in your career or personal life?
One of the biggest challenges that's been gratifying to overcome has been being able to raise two kids when both my wife, Kelly, and I are surgeons at MD Anderson. It's been a partnership. We have a son and a daughter who are both in college, and it seems so much easier now. It makes me appreciate all our employees who come to work, pick up their kids from day care, rush back and forth, and still do the incredibly hard and meaningful work they do every day. Interestingly, my daughter is showing a strong interest in going into medicine.
What's something few people know about you?
I spent two years living in Casablanca, Morocco, when my father worked for a bank there. I attended a French-speaking school and continued my education in a French school when our family later returned to Brooklyn, which is where I'm from originally.
How do you relax?
I play tennis and watch sports -- I like to go to football and basketball games. I also relax by reading. I'm reading a book called "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It has a lot of strategies on how to be a good leader. I'm fond of American history.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
President Harry Truman said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." I like that.
What do you want your MD Anderson legacy to be?
I'd like my legacy to be that I helped develop a Surgery division that's regarded by our patients and colleagues as the best clinical translational Surgery division in the country.
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly publication for employees.