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A Passion for Medicine, Family, and Art

Jun 23, 2011

July 2010: Jonathan S. Berek, MD, MMS, is a Professor and the Director of the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center at the Stanford Cancer

Institute, and the Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Berek is Editor-in-Chief of ASCO Connection and has served the Society as a member of the Cancer Education Committee, the Scientific Program Committee, and the Tumor Markers Expert Panel. He is President of the Council of University Chairs of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Immediate Past President of the International Gynecologic Cancer Society.

Dr. Berek’s many awards include the President’s Award from the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists and the 2010 John C. Fremont Pathfinder Award, which “honors native Nebraskans who have made outstanding contributions to mankind.” In 2007, he was nominated for TIME magazine’s Person of the Year for his work on behalf of women.

AC: What is your professional focus right now?
Dr. Berek:
My main focus as the Director of the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center is administrative, including the expansion of our translational research program in women’s cancer. We’re about to launch a new Stanford Women’s Cancer Center this summer, which will double the existing space and provide centralized care for women with breast and gynecologic cancers. We’re also substantially expanding our supportive care programs, including social services, nutrition guidance, and palliative care, sexual health, and psychological counseling.

AC: What are the critical issues in the field of gynecologic oncology?
Dr. Berek:
By the time we see most patients with ovarian cancer, they have advanced-stage disease; therefore, it’s a tremendous challenge to extend the level of care necessary to provide the very best support to these women and their families. We are working toward identifying other risk factors that predispose women to this disease and that will allow us to develop preventive strategies. There is also an intensive investigative effort into screening methods that are reliable and affordable. Currently, there’s no test like mammography for ovarian cancer.Translational researchers are alsopiloting a number of different approaches toward a solid tumorvaccine for ovarian cancer similar to the recently approved prostate cancervaccine, the first solid tumor vaccine since those developed for melanoma.

AC: In such a challenging field, how do you find balance?
Dr. Berek:
I take solace in spending time with my family—my wife, Deborah, our three wonderful children, and two grandchildren. My wife and I have been married for 41 years. It’s a long-term, happy relationship. We recently collaborated on a textbook, the 15th edition of Berek & Novak’s Gynecology, with Deborah as content editor. She is also an artist and has done some of the art design for the 5th edition of Berek & Hacker’s Gynecologic Oncology.

AC: How did you select this field?
Dr. Berek:
When in medical school at Johns Hopkins, I did a number of rotations in oncology—hem-onc, medical, pediatric, and surgical oncology. I also did research in immunology. Gynecologic oncology was a way to combine multiple interests.Before turning to medicine, I was a theater arts major at Brown University. I thought I was headed for a career in the theater, directing and writing. One of my plays was produced, a musical called Pits. I also played a number of stringed instruments, including guitar. I toured and recorded as part of a group called the Vagabonds. I have copies of our album—Rider—although it’s no longer available. That’s all in the past. I gave it all up when I switched to medicine, and I’m very pleased that I did because medicine was the right career choice for me.

AC: Are you still involved in the arts?
Dr. Berek:
I play for myself and do a little singing. It’s very relaxing. My children are all in the entertainment industry; one son is a recording engineer and the other a composer, and my daughter works in public relations for the music industry. Part of their inspiration comes from growing up in Southern California surrounded by the entertainment industry, but there’s also a lot of music in my family. One of the things my wife and I enjoy most is going to musical performances, particularly the symphony.Deborah and I started as artists, and my wife paints—mostly figurative paintings and still life. She was in the graduate program in art history at Johns Hopkins. She took a pass on staying in that career as an art historian, but together we’ve probablyseen almost every major museumin the world. We spend a lot of time thinking, looking, and doing art. We often say that she went to osmosis medical school, and I got an osmosis art history degree.

AC: Do you have any advice forearly-career oncologists?
Dr. Berek:
My advice is to continue to enhance your lives outside your medical profession by actively pursuing your other interests and hobbies. This will help you to sustain your career as a productive oncologist. In order to remain dedicated to your patients, to your work, and to your profession, it is essential to maintain a good work-life balance.

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