Five years ago, Gary Bentz was completing the last of his 34 radiation treatments and his third round of chemotherapy to destroy a tumor at the base of his tongue -- along with the cancer cells that spread to nearby lymph nodes. His cancer was stage IV.
Today, Bentz -- who's cancer-free -- is back at MD Anderson, but for a much different reason. He's one of 28 patient advisors who are volunteering their time to help us shape policies and programs to improve the patient experience.
Why we need patient feedback and involvement Bentz and the other members of our Patient and Family Advisory Council come to MD Anderson at least once a month to share stories and provide feedback on issues impacting our patients.
And, many of them now serve on committees that previously only included our employees.
"Having a patient at the table with us is very powerful," says John Bingham, vice president for Performance Improvement. His Patient Safety Committee was one of the first to request patient involvement. "It'll accelerate our efforts to keep our patients safer."
When Bingham and his team reached out for patient involvement, they knew what they were looking for.
"We needed someone who's reflective, transparent and honest," he says. "And we needed a patient who's willing to tell us what we need to hear."
A fresh perspective Bentz was approached as a possible candidate to serve on the Patient Safety Committee, partly due to his more than 40 years of experience as an engineer.
"There's a richness in Gary's story, particularly because he's from the energy industry," Bingham says. "There's a lot we can learn from other industries when it comes to safety issues. We want his voice as part of our conversation."
With more than 40 years of experience as a petroleum engineer and owner of an independent oil company, Bentz knows a thing or two about safety.
"We spend a lot of time dissecting problems to create a safer environment for our operations," he explains.
Bentz will use that expertise, coupled with his personal experience at MD Anderson, to help the committee find creative solutions to some of the greatest challenges in health care today, such as keeping patients safe and being at the forefront of delivery systems built on information technology.
For Bentz, participation on the Patient Advisory Committee is an opportunity to pay back MD Anderson for all it's done for him.
"MD Anderson saved my life," he says. "My 3-year-old grandson and 2-year-old granddaughter may have never known their PawPaw. If I can give back in some way, then mission accomplished."
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.