Four interview sessions: 3 December 2013, 14 January 2014, 11 February 201417 March 2014
Total approximate duration: 6 hours 30 minutes
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD
For supplementary materials:
Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Interview Subject:
Dr. Ellen Ruth Gritz (b. 9 April 1944, Washington Heights, New York) came to MD Anderson in 1993 as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral Science, a position she held until her retirement in 2014. Dr. Gritz’s researcher has focused on the study of smoking cessation and the role of psychology in the prevention and treatment of cancer. In 2001 the American Society of Preventative Oncology awarded her with the Distinguished Achievement Award. In 2007 she was named to Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
Major Topics Covered:
Personal and educational background; commitment to balanced lifestyle
Research: smoking cessation
Research: psycho-social dimensions of cancer; screening, prevention, addiction intervention; quality of life for patients, families and survivors; gender/diversity issues in uses of addictive substances
History of addiction research
Acceptance of behavioral science research by oncology clinicians and researchers
Creation and evolution of the Department of Behavioral Science
Women Faculty Programs and equity for women in medicine and the sciences at MD Anderson and in the sciences
Developing the new field of Faculty Health
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.
Interview Session One: 3 December 2013
A Love of Animals and Learning; An Old-Fashioned Family
Chapter 01 / Personal Background
The Pathway to Graduate School and an Interest in Nicotine, Smoking, and Cancer
Chapter 02 / Educational Path
Focusing on Cancer
Chapter 03 / Professional Path
A Pioneering Study of the Psychosocial Aspects of Cancer
Chapter 04 / The Researcher
Interview Session Two: 14 January 2014
Experiences of a Woman Professional
Chapter 05 / Professional Path
Building a New Department of Behavioral Science (The Cancer-Control Continuum Model)
Chapter 06 / Building the Institution
Research in the New Department of Behavioral Science
Chapter 07 / The Researcher
Roles in Policy Making: Convincing Cancer Centers to Address Tobacco Cessation
Chapter 08 / The Administrator
Interview Session Three: 11 February 2014
The Texas Tobacco Settlement Creates Opportunities for Treatment at MD Anderson
Chapter 09 / Building the Institution
Innovative Research: Interdiscipinary Approaches to Addiction
Chapter 10 / The Researcher
Career Evolution Toward Policy Making; Research Projects on Women and on Tuberculosis
Chapter 11 / The Researcher
On the Moon Shots and The Melanoma Moon Shot
Chapter 12 / The Administrator
A Vision for the Department of Behavioral Science
Chapter 13 / Building the Institution
Interview Session Four: 17 March 2014
An Overview of Accomplishments in the Department of Behavioral Science
Chapter 14 / The Administrator
The Women Faculty Initiatives in the 1980s
Chapter 15 / Diversity Issues
Developing the New Field of Faculty Health
Chapter 16 / The Administrator
On the MD Anderson Presidents, Awards Received, and Retirement Plans
Chapter 17 / View on Career and Accomplishments
Interview Session One: 3 December 2013 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 01 (Personal Background)
A Love of Animals and Learning; An Old-Fashioned Family (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz sketches her family background and education and describes her early love of science and learning. She explains the wide breadth of her interest and shares anecdotes to illustrate her love of animals and her growing empathy for all creatures. She notes that she was educated at the best schools in New York, including the Bronx High School of Science and Barnard College (B.S. 1964, Psychology). She also explains that her family had a very traditional idea of occupations for girls. Dr. Gritz sketches her educational path that took her to University of California at San Diego, where she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on memory mechanisms in animals. She notes that her interest in cancer evolved through her different educational and professional experiences; in college she decided to become a clinical psychologist. She next speaks about the influences her parents and other mentors had on her choices.
Chapter 02 (Educational Path)
The Pathway to Graduate School and an Interest in Nicotine, Smoking, and Cancer (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz begins this chapter by describing her work on three-dimensional perception at Bell Tel Laboratories, where she took a job as a research assistant after graduating from Barnard College. She also describes other work experiences during college and describes expectations for women in this period. She explains that a mentor at Bell Tel Laboratories encouraged her to go to graduate school in San Diego. She began the program in 1966, intending to be a physiological psychologist, and studying animal memory and cholinergic mechanisms in animal memory under Dr. J. Anthony Deutch.
Chapter 03 (Professional Path)
Focusing on Cancer (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz explains that she became involved in cancer related research through her interest in tobacco, beginning with her recruitment in 1971 to UCLA to set up the animal laboratory, where she became involved with the study of cigarettes as a drug of abuse –a very unusual approach at the time. She tells of setting up a niche practice treating cancer patients. She talks about her roles with the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles (1981-1984, Director, Macomber-Murphy Cancer Prevention Program; 1984-1986, Associate Director for Research; 1983-1983 Director, Division of Cancer Control). She notes that in 1979 she was invited to write the first report on women and smoking for the Surgeon General’s Office. Dr. Gritz next speaks about her relationship to feminism. Dr. Gritz next talks about the influence of her husband’s cancer diagnosis on her interest in cancer’s impact.
Chapter 04 (The Researcher)
A Pioneering Study of the Psychosocial Aspects of Cancer (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Gritz talks about her research and the first groundbreaking studies applying clinical psychology to smoking cessation. She explains her philosophy that multiple areas of interest and action need to be integrated in professional and in personal life.
She explains her involvement in the first randomized study of smoking cessation in head and neck cancer patients. She describes the results of the study then talks about the connection with her current work and the ongoing MD Anderson program/clinic in smoking cessation. (First proposed in 1993 and opened in 2006).
Dr. Gritz talks about her recruitment to MD Anderson, instigated by Dr. Charles LeMaistre.
She talks about her role with the American Cancer Society and her interests in women and smoking, with parallel studies of testicular cancer. She notes that she is unusual, professionally, for focusing on so many areas.
Interview Session Two: 14 January 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 05 (Professional Path)
Experiences of a Woman Professional (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz talks about the career impact of discovering that she was “seriously underpaid” when she was at the point of promotion to full professor at UCLA. She explains her switch to the Head and Neck Department, noting that she had to go outside of her field to be seen as a peer. She then realized she would not be able to advance in that department.
Dr. Gritz next reflects on her relationship to feminism and the process by which she began to see systematic inequities in how women were treated.
Chapter 06 (Building the Institution)
Building a New Department of Behavioral Science (The Cancer-Control Continuum Model) (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz talks about her decision to join MD Anderson in 1992 to establish a department of behavioral science. Dr. Gritz recalls MD Anderson at the time: the independence, resource capacity, patient population, and the willingness to invest.
Dr. Gritz gives an overview of the department that was set up and how it related to Dr. LeMaistre’s vision of cancer prevention. She explains departmental restructuring involved.
Dr. Gritz explains the strategic plan she created for developing the department as part of her recruitment process. She conceptualized the department as spanning primary prevention, screening and early detection, interventions, and survivorship. She explains that this is called the “Cancer Control Continuum” and recalls that she had to convince people that this was the right approach.
Dr. Gritz talks about her recruits to fill all categories of the Cancer Control Continuum. She also notes the reactions of MD Anderson faculty to the new department and her model. She explains how attitudes motivated her to end her clinical practice.
Chapter 07 (The Researcher)
Research in the New Department of Behavioral Science (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz first comments on how bringing a new field to MD Anderson meant constantly having to establish credentials.
Dr. Gritz next talks about the evolution of her research to focus on the psychosocial aspects of hereditary breast and colon cancer. She describes the results and the further impact of the study on other programs and clinical practice. She talks about continued research on smoking and tobacco, moving into youth prevention and ethnic differences in smoking among young people. She explains her interest in health disparities and gender differences in cancer.
She summarizes the different attitudes toward smoking in different subcultures and notes that interventions must be crafted to address cultural attitudes.
Next she explains that she broadened her research to include smoking and chronic disease, most importantly HIV-AIDS. She describes a ten-year smoking cessation program run at a Thomas Street clinic for HIV-AIDS patients.
She next talks about the global focus of her research into tuberculosis. She then explains an innovative cell-phone intervention system used with HIV-AIDS patients –the first of its kind.
Chapter 08 (The Administrator)
Roles in Policy Making: Convincing Cancer Centers to Address Tobacco Cessation (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz talks about her involvement with the American Association for Cancer Research, gathering evidence to convince leaders of cancer centers that onside treatment centers are critical for smoking cessation. She outlines the studies conducted on this question. Next Dr. Gritz talks about her work with a group that offered a conference on smoking and cancer. They surveyed all cancer centers and discovered that virtually nothing is being done to help patients quit smoking. (MD Anderson is a sole exception.) She describes what is needed to make a change in this area, notably, including tobacco use assessments in all clinical trials. She explains how inroads have been made at MD Anderson with this latter issue. She talks about the tobacco treatment program established at MD Anderson in 2006 as a result of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry.
Interview Session Three: 11 February 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 09 (Building the Institution)
The Texas Tobacco Settlement Creates Opportunities for Treatment at MD Anderson (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz resumes discussion of a topic addressed in the last session: how funds from the Master Settlement Agreement (Texas Tobacco Settlement) in 1998 provided an endowment invested in MD Anderson faculty and projects. She explains that Dr. John Mendelsohn, president at the time, made the commitment to invest that money in prevention and Behavioral Science created a tobacco treatment service. This is a free service offered to all patients and employees. She notes that it is an expensive service (1.5 million annually). The describes the treatment modes offered, the statistics on utilization and the quit rates. She calls it a “Ferrari tobacco treatment program that is unique in the country and the world.”
Dr. Gritz explains that funds were also used to establish five FTE lines for faculty specializing in tobacco and to create a post-doctoral program.
Chapter 10 (The Researcher)
Innovative Research: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Addiction (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz begins this chapter talking about the relationship of tobacco to other risky/addictive behaviors, noting that these interrelationships have led her to research collaborations over the course of her career. She talks about the differences between her work and addiction medicine. She notes that she first studied the addictive properties of tobacco itself, but now approaches tobacco and addiction from a broad perspective.
Next, Dr. Gritz talks about a study she is conducting in Southeast Asia on betel quid addiction. She talks about cultural dimensions of betel chewing in Southeast Asia, a leading cause of cancer. She describes the collaborative study being run with a sister institution in Taiwan and talks about the next step: to conduct a laboratory study of withdrawal. She stresses that betel quid use is seen as a national health problem.
Chapter 11 (The Researcher)
Career Evolution Toward Policy Making; Research Projects on Women and on Tuberculosis (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz discusses her shift into policy-making over the course of her career. She notes her interests: global health; raising awareness of the risks of tobacco, the number one cause of preventable disease in the world. She talks about policy-related work she is conducting through the American Association of Cancer Research.
Next Dr. Gritz discusses the first conference on tobacco and tuberculosis held in 2010 and discusses the proposals for future work coming from this conference. She talks about her work on testicular cancer, neurocognitive effects of chemotherapy, and women and smoking. She notes that it took years for focus to be placed on women and smoking and talks about a five-country study underway in Europe.
Next, Dr. Gritz talks about several programs: the Tobacco Outreach and Education Program (TOEP), the ASPIRE intervention program run for children.
[the recorder is paused for about 7 minutes]
She describes the Sun Protection and Melanoma Prevention Program, now linked to the Prevention Program in the Melanoma Moon Shot.
Chapter 12 (The Administrator)
On the Moon Shots and The Melanoma Moon Shot (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz talks about the contributions that the Department of Behavioral Science is making to Dr. Ronald DePinho’s Moon Shots Program. She notes that the Prevention Program is a flagship initiative, a study aimed at offering interventions to families of survivors. She also describes the Moon Shots and notes that working on this project is very different from other research experiences, with clear deliverables as part of the motive as well as discovery. She talks about the advantages of the Moon Shots, which have fostered a collaborative spirit and are supported by philanthropic dollars in a time when NIH money is more difficult to come by. She makes observations on some of the lessons to be learned from this new structure for research.
Chapter 13 (Building the Institution)
A Vision for the Department of Behavioral Science (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz talks about the vision she had for the new Department of Behavioral Science when she arrived at MD Anderson. She wanted to include a full spectrum of approaches included in the NCI’s cancer continuum: from primary prevention to screening, to quality of life and survivorship. She notes that, initially, this vision attracted criticism, but she was able to recruit in all areas. Dr. Gritz notes how funding issues have influenced the number of faculty lines. She also talks briefly about the relationship of Behavioral Science to Integrative Medicine and Health Disparities Research. At the end of this session, Dr. Gritz talks about her hopes for the future of the Department and notes that it is the only “hard money” behavioral science department in a cancer center, a model department.
Interview Session 4: 17 March 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 14 (The Administrator)
An Overview of Accomplishments in the Department of Behavioral Science (listen/read)
In this chapter, Dr. Gritz talks about what she feels she has accomplished during her tenure as chair of the Department of Behavioral Science.
She expresses satisfaction that the Department addresses “the human side of cancer” at every phase of the life cycle; she lists those services.
She talks about the department’s growth and lists some regrets. She notes that the department is now an integral part of the institution and respected across the nation.
Dr. Gritz next talks about her fears for the future of the department and the institution. She looks back on the process of winning acceptance and funding for the Department then she observes that Dr. Ronald DePinho has brought in philanthropy along with an interest in funding prevention. She talks about problems communicating with non-social scientists and gives examples of how she addresses them.
Chapter 15 (Diversity Issues)
The Women Faculty Initiatives in the 1980s (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz talks about women’s issues at MD Anderson.
She sketches some history. She was part of the Committee to Evaluate the Status of Women [1988/89] tasked to analyze equity issues, a process that led to the creation of the position of Associate Vice President for Women Faculty. Dr. Gritz observes that this is now one of the most sophisticated and powerful programs at MD Anderson.
Dr. Gritz lists subtle messages women received about their unequal position. She also compares her experience at UCLA with that at MD Anderson, noting undervaluing of her salary at both institutions. Today, she explains, the VP for Women Faculty, Dr. Elizabeth Travis, makes recommendations and provides oversight to avoid inequities.
Dr. Gritz next provides advice to young women faculty, lists leadership training programs available to women. She talks about her own naivete as a young professional.
Chapter 16 (The Administrator)
Developing the New Field of Faculty Health (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz explains her interest in faculty health issues, beginning with the story of the suicide of an MD Anderson surgeon in 2000. She critiques the institutional reaction and explains the result: she partnered with colleagues to create a program to address faculty stress and notes Dr. John Mendelsohn’s positive reaction. The program received funds; Dr. Gritz describes the services offers. Dr. Gritz notes that they held their first Conference on Faculty Health in Academic Medicine, which resulted in the first book on the subject.
Dr. Gritz next comments on how young this field is, noting that MD Anderson conducted the first study of burnout among research physicians.
Dr. Gritz talks about her observations of chronic stress and burnout among physicians and researchers. She explains how the field can grow to have a larger impact. She then talks about her own experience of stress as an administrator responsible for other faculty members.
Chapter 17 (View on Career and Accomplishments)
On the MD Anderson Presidents, Awards Received, and Retirement Plans (listen/read)
Dr. Gritz shares her views of MD Anderson presidents, Dr. Charles LeMaistre, Dr. John Mendelsohn, and Dr. Ronald DePinho. She says he has done more for bringing in funding and helping prevention reach out into the community than other leaders.
Next Dr. Gritz talks about awards she has received, including her election to the membership of the Institute of Medicine and the Alma Dea Morani Renaissance Woman in Medicine Award, awarded by the Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine. At the end of the session, Dr. Gritz talks about how much she personally values having a healthy mind and a healthy body as well as balancing right and left brain thinking. She talks about her hobbies and interests, as well as her hopes to learn Italian and travel more after retirement. She talks about her thirty-eight-year marriage to Mickey Rosenau and their beloved cats.
 Dr. Gritz explains: “Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which was considered a critical part of memory and learning at that time.” Email communication, 12/5/2013.
This interview of psychologist Dr. Ellen Ruth Gritz (b. 9 April 1944, Washington Heights, New York) is conducted in four sessions in late 2013/early 2014 (total duration, approximately 6 hours 30 minutes. Dr. Gritz specializes in the study of smoking cessation and the role of psychology in the prevention and treatment of cancer. She came to MD Anderson in 1993 as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral Science (a department she was recruited to establish). She currently holds the Olla S. Stribling Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research at the M.D Anderson Cancer Center. The interview takes place in a conference room at the Department of Behavioral Science in the Duncan Building on the Main Campus of MD Anderson. The conference room is filled with Dr. Gritz’s professional awards as well as photographs of her home-cultivated orchids, her beloved cats, and scenes from scuba-diving trips with her husband, Mickey Rosenau. Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer.
Dr. Gritz received her B.A. in psychology in 1964 Barnard College, Columbia University in New York and continued at Rutgers University for her MS Psychology (degree conferred in ’66).
She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego in 1971, and did her Internship at the Veteran’s Administration Med. Center in Brentwood, Los Angeles (‘66-’71). She did a Clinical Residency in Family Therapy at UCLA, from 1978 to 1979.
The variety of appointments Dr. Gritz held as her career evolved presaged the wide scope of her research and administrative interests. From 1971 to 1984, Dr. Gritz served as a Research Psychologist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center-Brentwood, Los Angeles, CA, simultaneously serving as Assistant Research Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA (6/1971-6/1979), advancing to Associate Research Psychologist (1979-3/1989). Dr. Gritz was also connected with the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, serving as Director of the Macomber-Murphy Cancer Prevention Program from 1981-1984. She held the position of Director, Division of Cancer Control in 1983 and served as Associate Director for Research from 1984 to 1986. She was Professor in Residence in the Department of Surgery, Division of Head and Neck Surgery at UCLS from 1988 to 7/1993. Her research career began with studies of the addictive properties of tobacco and as her appointments multiplied and increased in responsibility, her interests and collaborations widened to take in more of the psychosocial dimensions of cancer. Dr. Gritz was recruited to MD Anderson in 1993. She has received numerous awards. In 2007 she was named to Institute of Medicine of the National Academies; in 2010 she received the Distinguished Professional Woman Award from the Committee on the Status of Women, awarded by the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. In 2009 she received the Alma Dea Morani Renaissance Woman in Medicine Award from the Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine. In 2001 the American Society of Preventative Oncology awarded her with the Distinguished Achievement Award.
In this interview, Dr. speaks about her career as a behavioral psychologist with an international reputation in smoking cessation and the psycho-social dimensions of cancer, including screening, prevention, addiction intervention, and quality of life studies for patients, families and survivors, and gender/diversity issues in uses of addictive substances. In the process of describing her career’s evolution and the variety of her research areas, she gives perspective on the growth of addiction research and the (ongoing) process by which behavioral science research has come to be respected and influential among oncology clinicians and researchers. The gives insight into the creation and evolution of the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson, a new department she was recruited to establish using a plan of her design. Dr. Gritz has also been active in furthering equity for women in medicine and the sciences. She shares anecdotes that reveal her direct experience of unequal treatment. She also traces her involvement in the growth of Women Faculty Programs at MD Anderson. In the past decade, Dr. Gritz has also been involved in opening the new field of Faculty Health. She describes critical incidents at MD Anderson that galvanized her commitment and that resulted in the founding of the Office for Faculty Health, a model Office in the nation for services for physicians and researchers. Dr. Gritz also provides a portrait of her own energetic and balanced life, which includes her love of travel, orchids, and a twenty-eight year long marriage.