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CIOs join forces to battle cancer

Stephanie Overby | May 30, 2014
Join forces with a seeming archrival to develop a data-sharing platform? Jay Ferro ... Ferro is the CIO of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

"If we want to dive deeper into solutions to our problems, we can't do it alone. That doesn't benefit the patient at all," Nadaf says. "The more we collaborate, the more of a difference we make."

The Mission Continues
Not every day in the cancer battle is a good day. Loss is a fact of life for CIOs in the field.

"One of the things I've learned from St. Jude patients is that while survival is incredibly important, what's equally important is to thrive with every day that we're given," says Machen on the morning he was to attend the memorial service for an 8-year-old patient who had become a dear friend.

"One of the most beautiful things in the world was to see how much she cared and loved others at a time in her life where she could have been self-centered. It's tough, but a day like today is an everlasting reminder of the awesome nature of our mission."

That patient focus is something Nadaf of UCSF picked up when he was starting out. He worked in the lab of internationally renowned lung cancer expert Dr. David Carbone. "We had the very first gene therapy protocol in the country for advanced lung cancer," he recalls. "I was a young twentysomething and very excited." Nadaf would accompany Carbone on grand rounds and tumor boards weekly, and he saw patients suddenly slip away.

"I saw how fast patients died, and it was troubling to me," says Nadaf. "Today I know the difference can be in the data. There's power in the data. And my job is to continue to bring out as much as I can from the data to help each patient."

Given the prevalence of cancer, CIOs don't have to go far to see the impact of their work. "Everyone on my staff knows someone who's been affected. Some have fought cancer themselves," says Skarulis of Sloan Kettering. "We're not doing something for some remote benefit, something that might do some good in the future. We see on a day-to-day basis how what we do effects people's lives." That creates a sense of urgency in IT. "Every day that we don't know something is a day we haven't helped someone," she says.

But that pressure to do the best possible work is self-imposed and ultimately a positive force, says Skarulis, pointing to the fact that Sloan Kettering's employee engagement numbers are "off the charts."

"Everyone who's engaged in this mission is enthused and infused with the knowledge that they're moving cancer care and treatment forward," says Kibbe.

Mission--it's a word you hear a lot when you're talking to CIOs in the cancer field. And, yes, you'd probably hear a commercial CIO throw the word around, too, and mean it. But the mission of IT leaders at these nonprofits might sound odd to their for-profit counterparts.


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