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Submitted: 27 June 2017
Three interview sessions: 2 August 2011, 3 August 2011, 21 November 2011
Approximate total duration: 3 hours 15 minutes
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. (email)
For supplementary materials:
Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, email@example.com
About the Interview Subject:
Dr. Michael Ahearn (b. 1936, Jackson, Texas) came to MD Anderson in 1965 to work in the Section of Cytogenetics Immunology Ultrastructure in the Department of Clinical Pathology and serve as Director of the Diagnostic Ultrastructure Hematology Laboratory prior to focusing his career on educational initiatives. Dr. Ahearn developed a rapid histo-chemical technique for differentiating forms of leukemia that revolutionized diagnosis and treatment. In administration, Dr. Ahearn has had a profound impact on education. He has served as Dean of the School since its founding in 1987. He was instrumental in MD Anderson gaining degree-granting status in 2000. He has been active in creating programs to foster science education outside MD Anderson and to build educational programs at MD Anderson. He has created educational materials and programs to address skin cancer prevention for schoolchildren and teachers.
Major Topics Covered:
Personal and educational background; faith
Research: cytogenetic markers, leukemia
The Ultrastructure Diagnostic Laboratory
Developing the School of Allied Health Professions
Medical education; technology in education; shortages of health professionals
Extramural education programs:
Technology and education
Educational outreach programs
Memories of early years at MD Anderson
Memories of three MD Anderson presidents
Regarding the Transcript and Audio Files
In accordance with oral history best practices, this transcript was intentionally created to preserve the conversational language of the interview sessions. (Language has not been edited to conform to written prose).
The interview subject was given the opportunity to review the transcript. Any requested editorial changes are indicated in brackets [ ], and the audio file has not correspondingly altered.
Redactions to the transcript and audio files may have been made in response to the interview subject’s request or to eliminate personal health information in compliance with HIPAA.
The views expressed in this interview are solely the perspective of the interview subject.They are not to be interpreted as the official view of any other individual or of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Inspired to Practice Medicine and Lured to MD Anderson with an Electron Microscope
Chapter 01 / Professional Path
Memories of a Small MD Anderson and R. Lee Clark
Chapter 02 / MD Anderson Past
Research Innovation Leads to a New Ultrastructure Diagnostic Laboratory and Discovery of a Cytogenetic Marker
Chapter 03 / The Researcher
Creating a New School of Allied Health Professions
Chapter 04 / The Administrator
Establishing the School of Allied Health Professions: Challenges and A Commitment to Excellence and Critical Thinking
Chapter 05 / The Administrator
A Virtual Radiation Therapy Machine: Innovative Education in the School of Allied Health Professions
Chapter 06 / An Institutional Unit
Feeding the Pipeline of Health Professionals: The Outreach Programs
Chapter 07 / The Educator
Interview Session Two: 3 August 2011
The Rosalie B. Hite Fellowship for Graduate Students in Cancer Research
Chapter 08 / Building the Institution
Creating Project SAFETY [Sun Awareness For Educating Today’s Youth]
Chapter 09 / The Educator
Charles LeMaistre, John Mendelsohn, and Other Leaders
Chapter 10 / Key MD Anderson Figures
Awards and Pride in the School of Health Professions and MD Anderson’s “Pipeline of Caring”
Chapter 11 / Career and Accomplishments
Interview Session Three: 21 November 2011
The Future of The School of Health Professions and the Summer Programs
Chapter 12 / An Institutional Unit
Time for Travel; A New Business
Chapter 13 / Post Retirement Activities
Interview Session One: 2 August 2011 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 01 (Professional Path)
Inspired to Practice Medicine and Lured to MD Anderson with an Electron Microscope (listen/read)
At the chapter, the interviewer and interview subject discuss a milestone for the School of Health Profession. Next, Dr. Ahearn outlines his professional path leading from the small-town environment of Jackson, Texas, to the University of Texas, Austin, where an inspiring professor and mentor at who guided him toward graduate work in cytology. Dr. Ahearn received his B.A. in Zoology in 1958, his M.A. in Zoology and Biochemistry. His Ph.D. in Cytology was conferred in 1965. Specializing in ultrastructural pathology, Dr. Ahearn was brought to MD Anderson by Dr. Russell, Chair of the Department of Clinical Pathology, to serve as Director of the Diagnostic Ultrastructure Hematology Laboratory and work with the newly acquired electron microscope.
Chapter 02 (MD Anderson Past)
Memories of a Small MD Anderson and R. Lee Clark (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn shares memories of a much smaller-scale MD Anderson on his arrival. He also shares recollections of the “visionary” Dr. R. Lee Clark.
Chapter 03 (The Researcher)
Research Innovation Leads to a New Ultrastructure Diagnostic Laboratory and Discovery of a Cytogenetic Marker (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn sketches his main contributions to pathology and the institution. First he describes his development of a rapid histo-chemical technique for differentiating forms of leukemia. His technique required only 24 hours rather than the standard five days –a “revolutionary” advantage, as he notes, for diagnosis and treatment. He describes the challenges of diagnosis at that time at MD Anderson and some of the institutional reorganization that took place as a result of MD Anderson’s growth and commitment to new technologies. He also explains his view that work at MD Anderson was at the leading edge of innovation in the years when he first arrived.
Chapter 04 (The Administrator)
Creating a New School of Allied Health Professions (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn speaks about the creation of the degree-granting School of Health Professions from the loosely structured, certificate-based training programs then in existence. The School was formed in reaction to the (national) shortages of allied health professionals at that time and it continues to address that problem. He explains problems that arose from the fact that MD Anderson was not a degree granting institution despite the fact that it offered many training programs. He describes the advantages that degree-granting status would offer MD Anderson.
Chapter 05 (The Administrator)
Establishing the School of Allied Health Professions: Challenges and A Commitment to Excellence and Critical Thinking (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn goes into more detail about creating the School of Allied Health Professions in an institution already very pressed for space. He paints a striking picture of the School’s first class of 35 students maneuvering their way into tiny ad hoc classrooms. He outlines the School’s educational philosophy and commitment to critical thinking.
Chapter 06 (An Institutional Unit)
A Virtual Radiation Therapy Machine: Innovative Education in the School of Allied Health Professions (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn gives a vivid description of a virtual radiation therapy interactive simulator and its benefits for education. He also explains how the school relies on the faculty to be aware of technological advances that might enhance training.
Chapter 07 (The Educator)
Feeding the Pipeline of Health Professionals: The Outreach Programs (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn talks about his work creating summer programs for high school students, medical students and educators (e.g. Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation Summer Program in Biomedical Sciences for Graduating High School Students). The aim of these program: to build awareness of the allied health professions and technological advances. He talks about his interest in working with young students who need educational guidance.
Interview Session Two: 3 August 2011 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 08 (Building the Institution)
The Rosalie B. Hite Fellowship for Graduate Students in Cancer Research (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn continues his discussion of the summer programs he has founded. He first explains the founding and mission of the Rosalie B. Hite Fellowship Committee (that supports graduate students in cancer research), stressing the importance of philanthropy in supporting the educational programs. He then fleshes out more details about the summer programs described in the last session.
Chapter 09 (The Educator)
Creating Project SAFETY [Sun Awareness For Educating Today’s Youth] (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn turns to the pro-bono projects he has instigated in cancer prevention, projects inspired by the blistering burns he saw on young people who attended his summer programs. He describes these programs in detail and offers touching anecdotes on their influence. He talks about the dangers of tanning booths for young people. He talks about a state-sponsored action plan to address skin cancer.
Chapter 10 (Key MD Anderson Figures)
Charles LeMaistre, John Mendelsohn, and Other Leaders (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn offers his perspective on the three presidents he has served under, noting that MD Anderson was a different institution under each leader, though each has “shared the vision” of MD Anderson as a caring institution. That feeling, he says, also filters into a sense of pride and mission in the faculty.
Chapter 11 (Career and Accomplishments)
Awards and Pride in the School of Health Professions and MD Anderson’s “Pipeline of Caring” (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn talks about awards he has received. In response to a final question about what he does to relax, Dr. Ahearn recounts an anecdote about caring for Tobias, a miniature horse.
Interview Session Three: 21 November 2011 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 12 (An Institutional Unit)
The Future of The School of Health Professions and the Summer Programs (listen/read)
Dr. Ahearn begins this chapter by talking about the School of Health Professions at a moment when the School is poised for growth, and as Dr. Shirley Richmond succeeds him as Dean. He offers his views on Dr. Ronald DePinho, who on September 1st succeeded John Mendelsohn as president of MD Anderson. He speaks about his hopes for Project SAFETY, the skin cancer awareness project that is attracting national attention, as well as the King Foundation project. (He shares amusing stories about dealing with high school students who are away from home from the first time.)
Chapter 13 (Post Retirement Activities)
Time for Travel; A New Business (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Ahearn talks about his plans for retirement. He is looking forward to a trip to County Cork in Ireland, where he will immerse himself in the Irish heritage important to his family. He is also assisting his wife in her custom tile business. (Dr. Ahearn joking says that his wife offered him the positions of CEO, COO, or CFO, but never discussed salary or benefits.) He reflects on the fact that his career has allowed him to make contributions in all four of MD Anderson’s mission areas: research, clinical service, patient service, and education. He reflects on how his spiritual life has influenced his work: “everything we do is for the glory of God,” and hence “I have always tried to do my very best.” Working with colleagues at MD Anderson also inspired him throughout his long career. Finally, reflecting on the interview process, Dr. Ahearn notes that everything he has said reflects his perspective alone but nevertheless one thread will run through all the interviews included in this collection: the concern with patients and patient care.
Dr. Michael Ahearn, Ph.D.
Submitted by: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.
Date Revised: 26 June 2014
This interview with Dr. Michael Ahearn (b. 1936, Jackson, Texas) takes place in three sessions conducted on August 2nd and 3rd and November 21st, 2011. The total interview duration is approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes; Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer. The first two sessions are conducted in Dr. Ahearn’s office at the School of Health Professions at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In one corner of the office stands a wooden mace that each year is carried into the School’s graduation ceremonies by the eldest member of the academic faculty. A cluster of ribbons ornaments the mace, each one commemorating a different year.
Dr. Ahearn has served as Dean of the School since its founding in 1987, an initiative in which he took a leadership role. He is also a Professor on the Faculty. During the approximately 2 and one-half hours of interview time, Dr. Ahearn discusses the School and its educational mission, his role in creating educational materials on skin cancer prevention for schoolchildren and teachers, and his early days as a cytologist/ultrastructural pathologist in the Department of Laboratory Medicine at MD Anderson. “I have had the privilege of serving under all three MD Anderson presidents,” he states (R. Lee Clark, Charles LeMaistre, and John Mendelsohn). He offers sharp recollections of first years at MD Anderson (including the uniformed elevator operators) and insights on the presidents’ characters and contributions. On 30 June 2011, Dr. Ahearn was presented with the MD Anderson Presidents’ award, signed by all three former presidents, in recognition of his contributions. He was elected to the University of Texas System Academy of Science in 2005, inducted into the Texas Science Hall of Fame in 2002, and received the Rogers Award for Excellence in Education in 2000.
In this interview, Dr. Ahearn talks about his contributions to MD Anderson’s histopathology services and his role in developing the School of Allied Health Professions as well as educational outreach programs. He is a wonderful storyteller, candid and thorough. This interview shows Dr. Ahearn to be passionate about education and the commitment to active caregiving on which MD Anderson is founded.
 Note: at the top of the mace is a carving of the UT MD Anderson’s Seal. No longer used by the institution, the School of Health Professions has special permission to use it. An image of the mace is included in the file of interview materials for Dr. Ahearn.