3 Questions for Claire Verschraegen, M.D.
- By Jennifer Nachbur
A board-certified oncologist, Claire Verschraegen, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.P., joined UVM and the Vermont Cancer Center (VCC) in June 2011, as Interim Director of the Vermont Cancer Center, Professor and Chief of Hematology/Oncology at the College of Medicine & Fletcher Allen Health Care. This fall she was named the Irwin H. Krakoff, M.D., Endowed Green & Gold Professor at the VCC. She specializes in treatment of rare cancers and new anticancer drugs and treatments for solid tumors. She earned her medical degree at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and trained at the Institute Bordet, and at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She has served on the faculty and in leadership roles at the University of Texas and at the cancer center of the University of New Mexico.
VM: You’ve helped to build a cancer center before. What skills do you bring to Vermont that will help us reach the goal of National Cancer Institute designation for the VCC?
CV: I really think that to be good at this job, you have to listen to everyone, and you have to encourage everyone — for instance, if they have a research idea, to encourage them to go ahead and apply for grants, and not wait for the next funding cycle. I am willing to provide faculty with a respite from their clinical responsibilities in order to help them achieve their research goals. I think people are capable of doing more than they realize if they are encouraged and supported and their efforts are recognized. I’m basically a cheerleader and an orchestra conductor here; I can’t play every instrument, and wouldn’t want to. It’s important to remember that the spirit of an NCI designation is really focusing on how we can improve care for patients — either by preventing the disease, or treating them better, or diagnosing them earlier, or preventing them from having a relapse.
VM: As you look ahead at the coming year, how do you envision what the ultimate structure of the cancer center will look like?
CV: I will designate program leaders. They must have actively funded research — that’s an NCI requirement. The heads of each of the programs will be part of the senior leadership of the cancer center, and will help to make the strategic decisions regarding how to apply for the NCI designation. There will be an internal advisory board and an external advisory board. We already have formed an embryo of an internal advisory board; it can change depending on the way that things are crystallizing. We are going to have to have some shared resources; we already have two or three. I’m looking at more shared resources — genomics, tissue banking, pathology, microscopy, and a clinical trials office. You really follow the NCI guidelines to put the structure in place and then you try to select who fits best in the role that the NCI is asking you to assign.
VM: If you had to identify three simple goals you have as the VCC director and chief of Hematology/Oncology, what are they?
CV: One is to capture data in an electronic fashion so that we can do outcomes research and interrogate the database. This allows us to be sure we ask the right questions and propose research to answer them. Another one is to help build the programs by encouraging people to get more grant funding for supporting those programs. And the third one goes back to what I said about being a cheerleader — pulling people together to support the effort, so that we are successful. I can do a lot, but without the whole it’s never going to work out completely. We have to be one body that wants to come together. Part of this is acting as a teacher. I think teaching the next generation of physicians and scientists so that they can take over would really be one of my concerns — to teach them well, and thereby ensure that our future patients are well served.