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by John Howser | Posted on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 — 9:19 AM
Arnold Malcolm, M.D., MBA, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Radiation Oncology and chair of the department, will retire from his position as the department’s leader on Dec. 31, after serving in this role since August 2010.
Prior to his appointment as chair, Malcolm served as the department’s interim chair from May 2009 until August 2010. He will remain on the faculty. A national search for his successor will begin immediately.
While the transition will not equate to complete retirement, the move brings Malcolm a step closer to why he returned to Middle Tennessee in 2004 after nearly 18 years in Southern California.
During his tenure as chair, the Department of Radiation Oncology has cemented a culture for delivering world-class oncology services, scientific discovery and educating leaders, and has created a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to the delivery of care to patients with head and neck cancer.
“I want to express my appreciation to Arnold for his collegiality and outstanding leadership of the department. We have all benefited from his deep commitment to VUMC’s missions and culture, and to provide our patients the very latest and safest treatment options for some of the most challenging diseases we manage,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I am delighted he will continue to serve the Medical Center in important ways as we work together to address the challenges ahead.”
Radiation Oncology has doubled the number of patients receiving treatment for neuro-oncologic diseases and head and neck cancers, and has aided in the establishment and growth of radiation oncology facilities elsewhere throughout the region.
The department’s research supports advancements in the measurement of radiation doses delivered at the time of treatment, minimizing damage to normal surrounding tissues and the development of radio-sensitizing drugs for potential use in clinical trials.
“Throughout our health system there is a great deal of admiration for Arnold’s knowledge and experience as a leader in the field of radiation oncology,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “Beyond our respect for his clinical expertise, Arnold’s decades of experience establishing and organizing radiation oncology facilities has been instrumental to the growth of his department and the addition of radiation oncology services beyond our 21st Avenue campus.”
Malcolm’s history with Vanderbilt University Medical Center began in 1971 when he served an externship in Radiation Oncology. He was hired by Vanderbilt in 1981 as chief of the Radiation Oncology Clinical Program.
Describing himself as a “PK,” a “preacher’s kid” of humble roots, Malcolm is one of seven children raised by a church deacon father who worked multiple jobs and a pastor mother who also cleaned houses to support their family in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating high school, he served as an Army medic in Vietnam, which was a life-changing experience that ignited in him a passion to help others through medicine. He attended college with much of the expense supported through the G.I. bill. “We didn’t have much but we made it,” he said.
“One of the reasons it’s going to be hard to step back and to slow down, and this is not a period in my life I often discuss, but I will never forget being in Vietnam and saying, ‘Lord if you let me out of this mess, somehow I’m going to do something to make my life worthwhile to others.’ That’s been my mantra,” he said. “That’s why I went into medicine, why I went into oncology, and why I do what I do.”
Malcolm graduated from Kent State University and received his medical degree from Meharry Medical College. After completing his residency training at Harvard Medical School, he joined the Harvard faculty and was an investigator in the joint Harvard-M.I.T. Health Sciences and Technology Program. He later earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of California at Irvine.
In 1987, he left Vanderbilt and moved to Southern California where he practiced radiation oncology and was a faculty member at the University of Southern California and UCLA.
In southern California, Malcolm and his wife Janice raised their two children while he also spent 18 years as co-owner of one of the nation’s largest radiation oncology groups. During those years he also served as medical director at four hospitals and as cancer center director at another hospital.
Despite the professional commitments Malcolm says he was still able to be involved in the lives of his children. His daughter, Jamila, and son, Christopher, were both high school athletes and he enjoyed supporting and participating in their athletic pursuits.
Malcolm returned to Vanderbilt’s faculty in 2005 as medical director of the Vanderbilt Center for Radiation Oncology.
“With our children grown, I came back here to Middle Tennessee in 2004 to retire, or at least slow down from taking care of patients and other responsibilities, because I like the area,” said Malcolm.
“When I first came back to Vanderbilt I was only working three days a week. So I had Fridays and Mondays off. This allowed us to jump on a plane to California to visit our children. But that didn’t last very long,” he said laughing. “I ended up doing different things here and that led to becoming interim chair.”
Over the years, Malcolm has served on several advisory panels and scientific committees for national organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration, the American College of Radiology and the American Cancer Society. He has published more than three-dozen scientific papers and abstracts.
“Arnold has provided strong leadership. He hired many outstanding faculty members and contributed significantly to both clinical services and high-impact, translational research throughout the Cancer Center,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., the Benjamin F. Bird Jr. Professor of Oncology and director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
Malcolm is currently involved with more than 20 VUMC committees including the VMG Executive Committee, Executive Medical School Admissions Committee, Ethics Committee, Radiation Safety Committee, and has served on several department chair search committees and the board of the Canby Robinson Society.
“At this point in my life, I have decided that I want to slow down and spend that time with my family that I haven’t been able to do in 40 years,” he said. “This is the time to do it before I get so old that I can’t.”
Malcolm is a man of many interests outside medicine and plans to spend time taking classes in theology. He already serves as a Eucharistic minister and serves communion at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville. He is also a passionate woodworker.
“I enjoy making things. This takes my brain away from what I do every day,” he said. “This time away will provide a sense of stepping back and will allow a way for me to pursue some of these other opportunities.”
Malcolm says he if often asked how for more than four decades he has dealt with the emotional aspects of treating cancer patients with such complex illnesses.
“I love oncology. I tell people it’s actually very meaningful and that an unfortunate diagnosis can bring out the very best in people and not the worst. Because of my upbringing in the church I don’t have significant problems when it comes to talking with people about very serious illnesses or end-of-life issues,” he said.
Malcolm serves as medical director for Bedside Matters, the monthly gathering of VUMC physicians and nurses where the psychological aspects of dealing with end-of-life issues are discussed. “I think this is something that’s missing these days, meaningful education that there are two sides to the coin, that there is a beginning and an end. And somehow we’ve missed that,” he said.
Another post-chair aspiration is to complete a book that is 20 years in the making about how physicians feel about addressing end-of-life issues with their patients.
As he ponders the next phase of life Malcolm says he will continue to be very active. “I’m not going to sit down and do nothing, but as a physician I’ve done what I could to help people for 40 years and it’s time to step back. I think the Lord will understand,” he said.
“There is no way in this world I ever thought I would be in the position I’m in and am walking away from. I don’t think I can express the appreciation I feel for this Medical Center and this University to put their faith in me and to allow me to do the things I’ve been able to do. There are so many wonderful people I’ve been able to work with. It’s just an amazing place.”
John Howser, (615) 322-4747
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