The American Cancer Society has added its first-ever Chief Cancer Control Officer (CCCO), and Richard C. Wender, MD, has been appointed to that position.
When Wender, who in 2006 became the first primary care physician to serve as ACS's volunteer president, officially becomes a fulltime staff member of the Atlanta-based organization in November, he will be the latest senior official to join what ACS President and COO Greg Bontrager calls its “cancer continuum team.”
Bontrager said during a recent telephone interview that the society had “come of age to launch the cancer control position to complement its medical and scientific expertise in a seamless fashion.”
He said that this was the only cancer control post he knew of that spanned the spectrum from prevention through delivery, and that the CCCO would be a parallel position to that of Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Otis W. Brawley, MD (OT, 8/25/07).
Brawley will continue to focus on epidemiologic and peer-reviewed research programs related to clinical practice, while Wender's purview will include consumer and clinical guidance on cancer prevention and early detection, and implementing them through evidence-based cancer control interventions.
Wender will also work closely with the society's advocacy arm, ACS Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), on health policy related to prevention and early detection, and become part of the reorganized senior leadership that is “part of a transformative effort designed to save even more lives from cancer,” according to the Society.
In addition to Wender, Brawley, and Bontrager, the other team members are CEO John R. Seffrin, PhD; ACS CAN President Chris Hansen; Senior EVP for Field Operations Joe Cahoon; National VP for Corporate Communications Greg Donaldson; and Lin MacMaster, who was hired earlier this year as Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer.
Why He Took the Position
Wender, currently Alumni Professor and Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia, said during a separate phone interview that there were several reasons he decided to leave academia for ACS: “ACS is an extraordinary organization that proves to me consistently that it puts patients first and center, and I'm fortunate to have developed the right set of experience, expertise, and skills needed for this job.”
He said that on a personal level a little serendipity also played a role and that after 11 years as chair of his department and more than 30 years on Jefferson's faculty, the timing of the creation of the position was right for him, as was this particular time in the history of health care.
Wender has served as an active ACS volunteer for some 26 years, and seems to be part of what may be becoming a trend of longtime active volunteers leaving well-established careers in academic medicine and clinical care to join their professional societies as fulltime staff members. Two other similar cases are the American Society of Clinical Oncology's adding Richard Schilsky, MD (OT, 12/25/12), and Jaime Von Roenn, MD (page 26 of this issue), to newly created senior staff positions as Chief Medical Officer and Senior Director of Education, Science, and Professional Development, respectively.
But unlike medical oncologists Schilsky and Von Roenn, who said they would have to forgo clinical practice because it would not be fair to cancer patients to hold clinic infrequently, family practitioner Wender said he intends to try seeing patients at Jefferson monthly, where he will still hold an academic position and has many colleagues who can cover for him.
He will also maintain a home in the Philadelphia suburbs, since his wife Diane Rosecrans Wender, JD, will continue serving as the research integrity officer at the University of Pennsylvania.
Wender's first contact with ACS as a volunteer was with what had formerly been its Philadelphia chapter when he was asked to edit a newsletter for primary care physicians. That assignment lasted for 10 years and was the start of his voluntary leadership rise, which included serving in various capacities in Philadelphia before being nominated as a member at large for the Society's national board after it recognized the value of having a primary care doctor aboard, he said.
After his national presidency ended in 2007 he continued his volunteer service as Chair of the newly formed ACS Cancer Screening Guidelines Panel in 2011, as well as Chair of the Incidence and Mortality Committee, and as an editorial advisory board member for the society's CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. He has also received ACS's Saint George National Award volunteer recognition honor, and the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation's Cancer Prevention Laurel for National Leadership.
In 2012 he was named Chair of the National Colorectal Roundtable, an initiative funded by ACS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dedicated to eliminating colorectal cancer as a major public health problem. In addition to helping develop tools to promote colorectal cancer screening, Wender is a lead author of several ACS cancer screening guidelines, and was a co-investigator of an NCI-funded study of interventions to increase colorectal cancer screening.
His academic focus has been cancer prevention and screening and management of chronic illness. He has written extensively about primary care clinicians' role in cancer prevention, improving access to quality care, and reducing health disparities, and his perspective as a family physician should provide additional insights into working with primary care physicians, who are often on the front lines of prevention.
He said he originally wanted to be a pediatrician, but switched to family practice because of his interest in community interaction and prevention, with the intention of going into academic medicine.
“My principal motivation was to be a good doctor and to [be able to] impact systems nationally. My patients think of me as their doctor who is always there for them,” he said, adding that those patients have ranged in age from “a few days old until they died.”
He joined the Jefferson faculty immediately following his residency there in 1982 and just three years later was running the residency program until 1995, when he was named Vice Chair of the department before becoming Chair in 2002.
Working with Otis Brawley
At ACS he said that he and Otis Brawley “will be joined at the hip,” and will be involved in many collaborations and partnerships since he doesn't “imagine for a moment it will be possible to get this scope of work done independently.”
Brawley said during a telephone interview, “I've known Rich Wender for more than 15 years since we first met while working on prostate cancer screening at an ACS meeting. He has been a friend and very supportive of me, and our philosophies are very similar. I look forward to working with him here.”
Wender said he considers the CDC (also based in Atlanta) to be one of ACS's most important partners since the federal agency “shares our mission.”
“ACS is a trusted mission-driven organization, and it will be important to make sure we make meaningful progress that we can measure and keep accountable as we develop a road map for others,” he said, noting that when he first learned of the newly created cancer control post, he was very interested and many of his colleagues at ACS had encouraged him to take a look.
“My wife Diane said ‘this really seems like an amazing fit for you,’ and when your wife says it, it's very validating.”