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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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The Evolving Role of Executive Officer: Dr. Craig Nichols

Apr 10, 2015 - Early next week, SWOG administrative and overall Group leaders will hold a retreat in Phoenix. Primary goals include clarifying our shared understanding of SWOG's mission in a changing environment and specifying how each component of the Group should help us to achieve that mission. One of our sessions will be devoted to role clarity -- defining and documenting the roles and responsibilities among SWOG leadership, including better outlining the duties of our Executive Officers (EOs).

Early in 2014, I wrote about the four primary functions of a SWOG Executive Officer:

  • to facilitate scientific development within the Group,
  • to represent Group leadership in SWOG's Committees,
  • to represent SWOG's Committees within Group leadership forums, and
  • to advise the Group Chair.

Items 3 and 4 -- acting as liaison between Group leadership and SWOG's research committees -- continue to be vital functions of our EOs, though in some cases we've expanded an EO's constituency beyond the scope of a single committee or a cluster of closely allied committees. One particularly fuzzy area, mostly because it's new, relates to our NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) side.

Dr. Craig Nichols came into the role of Executive Officer with the cancer control and prevention committees in his portfolio. As circumstance, expertise, and inclination have aligned, I have also asked him to be our primary liaison with our NCORP sites and members. Dr. Nichols is a leading authority on testicular cancer, with more than 25 years of patient care and research in the disease. Yes, he was Lance Armstrong's primary oncologist when the Tour de France champion was treated for testicular cancer in the 1990s. And he has gone on to become a prominent voice internationally in testicular cancer awareness campaigns (check him out on the Mr. Testicles website). He also founded the Testicular Cancer Commons, a team of researchers committed to aggregating and disseminating information on best practices, research, and survivorship in the disease. Notably, he has made great use of social media for outreach and communications in this effort, especially effective venues given the relative youth of the typical patient with this disease (@Testiscancer is one of several Twitter accounts he maintains). Within the Group, he has taken on guiding and advocating for our AYA Committee.

As an oncologist practicing at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, and one who had a significant hand in bringing the Virginia Mason CCOP and several other CCOPs together to found the new Northwest NCORP, Dr. Nichols has been particularly committed to bringing clinical research opportunities to community oncology practices and the patients they see. Correspondingly, he ensures the perspectives and experience of community oncologists are represented at the table when Group-wide decisions are made.

If you're a SWOG member via an NCORP and will attend our Group Meeting in San Francisco later this month, you can see Dr. Nichols in the NCORP PI session on Saturday morning (and in many other sessions, of course).

Going forward, NCORP issues may need to be handled differently than those arising on the "pure treatment" side of SWOG. The funding stream is obviously different, as are rules regarding diverse areas ranging from executive review to tissue banking. The need for continual evolution of our NCORP Program and the Group itself, and the shape of that evolution, will be major themes of our retreat next week. We look to our EOs to take us into our future. If you have specific thoughts about this, and particularly about what the functions of our Executive Officers should be, please send them to me.

P.S.: For those interested in just the facts, here's a bit more about Dr. Nichols, in step with our "Get to Know Your EO" theme.

  • B.S. in computer science (and more than abiding interest in innovation in medical informatics and the application of "big data" in oncology research)
  • M.D. from Oregon Health Sciences Center, predecessor to today's OHSU
  • Fellowships at University of Miami and Indiana University
  • Indiana University School of Medicine faculty from 1985 to 1998
  • formerly at OHSU as DeArmond Chair of Clinical Cancer Research, Professor of Medicine, Chief of Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, and Associate Director of the Cancer Institute
  • author on more than 200 research articles
  • Fellow, American College of Physicians
  • Member, Advisory Panel on Clinical Trials of Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)
  • Member, ASCO Board and Executive Committee (Treasurer)


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