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Meet Jan C. Buckner, MD—Professor of Oncology at Mayo Clinic and member of ASCO’s Education Products Subcommittee

Mar 28, 2011

April 2011 issue: Last Page introduces you to one of ASCO’s many volunteers in nine quick questions.

AC: What led you to oncology?

Dr. Buckner: The patients. Patients have a need for compassionate, technically competent physicians, and patients usually demonstrate amazing courage under difficult circumstances. After more than 25 years, I still thoroughly enjoy each day in the clinic. Then there is the scientific basis of cancer and its treatment. It is endlessly interesting and continually changing. Never once since entering the field have I been bored. It is a terrific specialty for a lifelong professional journey.

AC: What’s the last book you read?

Dr. Buckner: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This is a nonfiction story about the experience of a Hmong family whose daughter has epilepsy. The book highlights the differences in beliefs about the causes and treatment of medical illness between the Hmong and Western culture. It causes us to question our assumptions about how we approach patients from other cultures, especially non-Western ones.

AC: What’s your favorite website?

Dr. Buckner: Weather.com. When you live in Minnesota, the reasons are clear.

AC: Who do you most admire?

Dr. Buckner: My father. Although it took me too many years to realize it, his work ethic, generosity, patience, and servant leadership style were truly worthy of emulation. He started a small business from scratch, nurtured it over time, and made it a success. He was committed more to the welfare of his family than to himself. Along the way, he gained both the affection and admiration of his rural community and small-town acquaintances. I still miss him.

AC: What career could you see yourself in if you weren’t an oncologist?

Dr. Buckner: It’s hard to imagine any other career at this point in life. But I suppose I could see myself very satisfied in a general internal medicine practice. Patient care is still patient care. I could also envision working as a medical writer for a lay audience. I believe there is a real need for Americans to understand the scientific basis of medicine more clearly. There can be unwarranted hyperbole in media reports of very preliminary laboratory or clinical observations. Good writing could help the public gain appropriate perspective over both the immediate and long-term implications of medical research.

AC: What hobbies do you enjoy?

Dr. Buckner: I really enjoy being outdoors—kayaking, fishing, hiking, or just cruising along the shores of the cold clear Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes in a boat—and gardening. Digging in the dirt is good therapy. My wife and I also thoroughly enjoy the arts opportunities in the Twin Cities—especially the Minnesota Orchestra, the Guthrie Theater, and of course A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.

AC: Do you have a personal motto?

Dr. Buckner: Love God and love your neighbor.

AC: What is your fondest memory?

Dr. Buckner: That’s a tough one. Fortunately, I have a lot of wonderful memories both from childhood and adult life. I would say that my favorite childhood memory is afternoon naptime on my grandmother’s couch, listening to the ticking of the clock on the mantle in an otherwise perfectly quiet house, and feeling her cover me with a blanket as I drifted off to sleep.

AC: What would you say to a young physician thinking about entering the field of oncology?

Dr. Buckner: It’s a great field if you want to be challenged and rewarded for the rest of your life—go for it! There are so many venues that need your skills—in practice, academia, industry, and government. There is almost always a satisfactory niche for talented, dedicated physicians. At the end of the day, it is a worthwhile way to spend a life.

In addition to positions identified in the introduction, Dr. Buckner previously served on ASCO’s Scientific Program Committee and the Journal of Clinical Oncology Editorial Board.

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