Health Equity, Healthy Lifestyles Are Top of Mind for ASCO President-Elect Dr. Lori J. Pierce

Jul 23, 2019

Dr. Pierce and her family with an elephant in South Africa.

Dr. Pierce and her family meet an elephant while traveling in South Africa.

By Amanda Narod, ASCO Communications

Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, a long-time ASCO member and volunteer, began her term as ASCO president-elect in June 2019. (She will serve as the 2020-2021 ASCO president, when current president Dr. Howard A. “Skip” Burris concludes his term.)

An active ASCO member since 1992, Dr. Pierce is a radiation oncologist, professor, and vice provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the University of Michigan. She is also director of the Michigan Radiation Oncology Quality Consortium. A national leader in breast cancer research, Dr. Pierce completed her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and her medical degree at Duke University. She completed her internship at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and her residency at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Pierce has served on the ASCO Board of Directors and as chair of the Conquer Cancer Nominating Committee. She is currently a member of the ASCO Special Awards Selection Committee. Dr. Pierce is a past member of multiple ASCO committees including the Government Relations Committee and Scientific Program Committee, and she served as a mentor for the Leadership Development Program from 2015 to 2018. In 2018, she received the Hologic, Inc Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award. She was named a Fellow of ASCO (FASCO) in 2015 in recognition of her extensive volunteer service to the organization.

What led to your interest in serving in an ASCO leadership role?

LP: ASCO’s work is so far-reaching. ASCO makes a difference in every aspect of cancer—be it policy, quality improvement, research, or education. One of the reasons I think ASCO has been so successful is because of the commitment of its diverse membership. The Society brings many important viewpoints to the table. It is a society predominantly of medical oncologists but it also includes radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, physicians from other disciplines, other cancer care providers, and patients. Bringing together these different voices and perspectives allows the oncology community as a whole to be more effective. ASCO is proof that a diverse membership can work together to achieve more than we could have individually to improve the care of our patients.

What led to you to a career in radiation oncology?

LP: In a word, patients! I adore my patients. I love being able to work with patients to improve their lives and outcomes. I did not originally set out to be a radiation oncologist, but rather a diagnostic radiologist. In my third year of medical school, I had the chance to participate in a lab project in radiation oncology. At that time, Dr. Leonard Prosnitz had just been recruited to Duke to be chair of radiation oncology and he invited me to shadow him in clinic. It was during that year that I realized a career in radiation oncology would allow me to combine my love of patient care with physics (I was an engineering major in college). It was perfect for me and I have never looked back.

Who has helped guide you throughout your career?

LP: There are so many people who have directly guided me in my career, probably too many to list, and there have been many individuals who do not even realize they were role models for me professionally. Dr. Morton Kligerman (1917–2006), Dr. Bob Goodman, Dr. Larry Solin, and Dr. Barbara Fowble were all extremely influential during my radiation oncology residency at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. John Glick, who was the director of the Cancer Center at Penn and a leader in ECOG, helped introduce me to the larger breast cancer research world. As senior investigator at the NCI, I learned more about oncology in general from Dr. Eli Glatstein, the head of the Radiation Oncology Branch, and I was then recruited to the University of Michigan by Dr. Allen Lichter. Allen was (and is) nationally known for his work in breast cancer and he encouraged me to have a greater involvement in ASCO. He has been a mentor and friend for much of my professional career. There have also been mentors from afar. Women such as Dr. Nancy Davidson and Dr. Sandra Swain were strong role models as leaders in the cooperative groups in breast cancer research. Collectively, I have been able to learn so much from many individuals along the way.

In the other part of my professional life—as vice provost of Academic and Faculty Affairs at Michigan—I have learned from many who have served as provost of the university. They have all helped to shape my administrative skills and focus in a large organizational enterprise.

As you can see, I’ve been very fortunate to have had a career in which I have been surrounded by wonderfully talented people.

Is there a career accomplishment that you’re most proud of?

LP: I am most proud of the people whom I have had a role in training to become leaders in their own right. Training the next generation of oncologists is one of the best aspects of academic medicine. I have mentored undergraduate and medical students, many residents, and fellows in the development of their clinical skills and knowledge and in clinical research. And as a vice provost, I also mentor junior faculty in navigating successful pathways toward improved job satisfaction and promotion. I feel most proud when I see those whom I’ve trained and mentored become successful in their careers.

What issues or programs are top of mind during your president-elect year, as you prepare for your term as ASCO president in 2020-2021?

LP: I’ve been interested throughout my whole career in how to best create equity in cancer care for all patients. It’s a challenging issue and one that is indeed multifactorial. One of the ways ASCO can and does promote equitable care for our patients is by providing the patient and caregiver perspectives to those who make national policy. I’m very much looking forward to working again with the Government Relations Committee and other key committees to help advocate on behalf of our patients.

I also have a keen interest in behavioral modifications and how oncologists can support healthy lifestyles for patients with cancer, as there is increasing evidence to show that healthy lifestyle choices improve outcomes. I’m interested in exploring ways in which ASCO can disseminate additional knowledge to the public about smoking cessation and the impact of obesity.

I am also excited about ASCO’s strategic goal to expand its footprint internationally. I believe there is much ASCO can bring to the table to help improve care in other countries and I am eager to learn from our international colleagues as well. For example, are there models of care outside of the United States that we could adopt in our country to increase access to care and better meet the needs of patients in the U.S.? Our international efforts will indeed be a two-way exchange of information and best practices.

How do you spend your free time?

LP: Anyone who knows me knows my family. My husband and I have a 22-year-old son and we are a close-knit family. We love to travel—South Africa and France are two of our favorite countries. We also frequently travel “Up North” (anyone from Michigan knows that “Up North” means essentially anywhere north of Detroit!) to spend time together. We also enjoy exercising and going to the gym together. We know the importance of exercise. And we are dog enthusiasts! Right now, we have a 1-year-old golden retriever, although I have owned dogs all of my life. And last but not least, I am a huge sports fan, particularly a University of Michigan Wolverines fan. In my vice provost role, I meet many of our student athletes. I support our kids on and off the field. As we say at the University of Michigan, Go Blue!

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