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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair
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Finding New Roles for Top Talent

Jan. 15, 2016 - The true power of organizations lies in their people. This is especially true of SWOG, a nearly all-volunteer organization, whose strength comes from the hundreds of members who give us thousands of hours of effort every year. We have some of the country's best minds in cancer research and, indeed, medicine itself, in our ranks – and I want to take full advantage!

That's why I am telling you about a new role here at SWOG, for two members who are near and dear to my heart.

Drs. David Gandara and Frank Meyskens both just stepped down from top leadership roles, Dr. Gandara as lung committee chair and Dr. Meyskens as vice chair of our National Community Oncology Research Program. Now, I am pleased to report, they each take on a new SWOG position: senior advisor.

Senior advisors will do just that -- advise me and members of the group chair's office on the best path forward on thorny or important issues, as well as leading in areas critical to SWOG's mission and principles.

They also have some unique duties. As one of our most productive, exacting, and longest-standing committee chairs, Dr. Gandara will co-direct, with Dr. Cathy Eng, our new leadership development course for young investigators that is currently in development. As we tighten policy and improve efficiency, Dr. Gandara will also help clarify and define the roles of SWOG committee chairs and executive officers.

As a national expert in cancer prevention, with a distinguished 40-year career, and one of SWOG's most committed and progressive leaders, Dr. Meyskens will serve as SWOG's liaison to the National Cancer Institute for our cancer prevention efforts, provide leadership on patient recruitment and retention, and explore the creation of an end of life research program at SWOG.

This new senior advisor role should be put into context. There is a vital need for it. For two years, we've been enforcing new term limits for our committee chairs. Yet, at the same time, the opportunities and challenges we face have never been greater. With limitless possibilities in precision medicine -- but with a limited supply of money, time, and talent to pursue them -- we need to make the most of our most precious resource -- our people. In a similar vein, knowing committee chair and other leadership roles are not as plentiful as we would like, we will explore creating other positions to keep our young investigators engaged with SWOG.

So stay tuned for more new roles, including ones that make good use of our patient advocates. We will continue to cultivate our future leaders, and make every effort to use the skills and knowledge of our past ones.