After retiring from longtime post, Buck Brown, MD, will step into another vital role
After transforming a small community cancer center into a global powerhouse of healing, Clarence H. Brown III, MD, better known as simply “Dr. Buck,” will retire as president and CEO of MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando at the end of 2012.
Yet after this role ends, Brown will take on a new role almost immediately with Orlando Health as president emeritus of MD Anderson–Orlando and vice president of development for the Orlando Health Foundation. In this role, Brown will join the Foundation’s development team and continue to support Orlando Health’s oncology programs.
Brown’s service to the Central Florida medical community began nearly four decades ago. He’s been at the helm as the leader of MD Anderson–Orlando since the facility opened its doors to the public 20 years ago, becoming the first outreach program of the world famous MD Anderson in Houston and bringing internationally renowned cancer care to Central Floridians.
Orlando Medical News chatted with Brown about highlights of his journey so far.
Why did you choose to retire from your current post at the end of 2012?
I was contemplating a bit longer tenure in this position, maybe another two or three years, but John Bozard, president of the Foundation and a very close friend of mine, and I were chatting one day and he asked me: “when you retire from the presidency, would you be interested in coming to the Foundation to raise money for cancer?” I don’t mind asking people for money and I’ve raised a lot of money over the years. When John mentioned that, I was thinking, I can’t wait a whole lot of time to do that if I stay on as the cancer center CEO for a few years. Perhaps I should split the time. He agreed. My wife said let’s go.
The timeline also gives me a little over a year to transition with my successor, who has not yet been named. I think I know who it will be, and if the right person is going to be named my successor, that person is well qualified and will do a wonderful job. There are some things that need to happen with my successor in the interim to become a bit more involved in the community. The person I’m thinking of has a relatively short tenure within the community so it’ll give him a bit more time to be handed off the reins and begin to meet the folks who need to be part of the continued growth of MD Anderson Orlando and relationships I’ve built within Orlando and also within Houston.
Our relationship with MD Anderson, our parent organization in Houston, is very important. It’s a huge organization with a lot of people who know about Orlando and a lot that don’t. Those who don’t know very much about us need to know more, and we need to continue to foster the support we’ve gotten from those who do know a lot about us.
Another change that needs transition is MD Anderson in Houston. It’s going through a change in leadership. A new president started Sept. 1 and he is not as familiar with our operations here in Orlando. We have to give him a chance to come visit us and see what we’ve accomplished and how it relates back to the mother ship. This gives us a little more time for this to happen. Putting all those factors into the equation, I thought: gimme a year or a little more to make this transition. You never know. I might be able to transition a little faster toward the middle of the year or spend a little more time with the Foundation identifying ways to raise money and begin to loosen my grip on some of what I do here.
How will your role differ?
I’ll be slowing down a little bit. It’s one-third of my focus now and certainly it’ll become the focus of my work going forward for the next several years. I’ll be spending 100 percent of my time fundraising for the cancer center and oncology services within our institutions. I won’t have the other responsibilities I’ve had for a number of years.
Even though the Health Central acquisition hasn’t worked out, why do you think the organization selected Orlando Health over other worthy competitors?
A large part of that decision was because we at MD Anderson Orlando are working with Health Central to start a cancer program within a facility there that already exists across the street from their campus that we’ll be operating as a cancer center.
What sparked your interest in oncology?
We all have relatives or friends who have been affected by cancer since it affects one of every two men and one of every three women. Every one of us has been touched by it, in some way.
My father had prostate cancer when he died, but he was close to 90 years old. My mother did not have cancer when she passed away of heart disease. My brother has been affected by prostate cancer, but he’s perfectly well now. Obviously, all of that has come late in my career.
My interest in oncology started when I was in medical school. Oncology was a fledging specialty at that time. There really were no medical oncologists. All cancer treatment was provided by hematologists, and hematology was a specialty that incorporated cancer treatment. We were giving chemotherapy to leukemia and lymphoma patients and it was only early in my career that we began to give chemotherapy to patients with breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers, so the emergence of oncology has moved step by step along my career path. I got very interested in the blood diseases and therefore of the solid tumors of medical oncology as that evolved.
Also, I had an opportunity early in my career to spend time at the NCI – the Mecca of cancer research in the U.S. I got to see the best of the best in cancer research, which heavily influenced my career. Then after a subsequent two years in fellowship at Johns Hopkins, there was nothing else for me to do ... the handwriting was on the wall from medical school.
Tell us about Orlando Health’s involvement with Lake Nona Medical City.
We started the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) in late 2005 but didn’t move to Lake Nona until 2009. We were actually the first identified institution in Lake Nona. The UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences was built, but no occupants were there until we took one floor of the building and moved it from downtown. We began to grow the CRI with the intent to collaborate with Sanford Burnham, the UCF College of Medicine and other entities that became part of Lake Nona Medical City, such as the University of Florida, Veterans Administration and maybe Nemours Children’s Hospital.
How far along that’ll go is open to debate. We’ve been constrained significantly financially over the last couple of years because of the reduction in granting for research and the lowered Medicaid reimbursement that’s on us right now. We’ve had to be very conservative with how much money we spend in research, but my feeling is that all great cancer centers do research and we do a lot of clinical research and excellent translational and basic research. As long as we can find the dollars from grants or philanthropy, we’ll have a significant presence in research. One of my goals when I move over to the foundation is to raise philanthropic dollars to support research.
Name the three greatest accomplishments with the MD Anderson Orlando component of Orlando Health?
First, getting it off the ground with some reluctance of community physicians who were uncertain what it meant for an institution like MD Anderson to come into Orlando. With persistence and perseverance, we were able to start slow, start small, and convince the naysayers that this was a good thing for our community. That took a few years. It began to really solidify in terms of a concept in 1994 when we were able to assume the brand name MD Anderson. For the first three years of our existence, we were known as Orlando Cancer Center and no one really recognized any relationship, so that was a major accomplishment.
Second, our successful capital campaign in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when we raised close to $22 million to allow for the construction of our 220,000 square foot cancer center, the pavilion that houses MD Anderson Orlando. It contains virtually everything a cancer patient needs and opened in 2003.
That allowed for the third most successful accomplishment: the successful recruitment of an outstanding medical staff. We started with eight physicians and now have more than 50 full-time employed physicians and close to 20 contracted physicians. We’ve built an outstanding medical staff of physicians, surgeons, specialists and virtually every aspect in oncology. We now have a world class medical staff.
Editor’s Note: On Nov. 1, Orlando Health revealed that internationally renowned liver cancer specialist Mark Roh, MD, will take over as president of MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando in 2012. Roh, who joined Orlando Health in August 2009 as Chairman of the Department of Surgery of MD Anderson-Orlando and Academic Chairman of the Department of Surgery of Orlando Health, established a Liver Cancer Center at MD Anderson–Orlando. He is currently the cancer center’s medical and scientific director.