David Cohn, MD, chief medical officer at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, is an avid cyclist and athlete. It’s apt, then, that he uses a sports analogy to explain his new leadership position as medical director of philanthropy at the OSUCCC – James.
“In baseball, the pitching coach strategizes how to put the right pitcher on the mound in the right situation,” Cohn says. “We have an outstanding cadre of physicians on our team, and my job is to help put them in the game to explain the great work we’re doing and inspire others to support this work.”
In this new role, Cohn says he will “connect with members of the community to give them a better understanding of what we do in terms of our research and patient-care priorities.”
Two of the more immediate research priorities, Cohn says, are creating an institute of immuno-oncology that will be a world leader and change the way cancer is treated, and developing a cancer engineering center. Longer-term plans include an onco-geriatrics center and a cancer prevention center.
Cohn’s new duties also include explaining the value of giving to programs that support patients at all stages of their cancer journeys—such as psychosocial oncology, oncology rehabilitation, palliative medicine, survivorship programs and JamesCare for Life. “These are often programs that don’t pay for themselves but are vital to the long-term quality of life of our patients,” he says.
In addition to his new title, Cohn directs the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Ohio State. This skilled surgeon also treats patients, and he is involved in cutting-edge research at the OSUCCC – James. He co-leads the Ohio Prevention and Treatment of Endometrial Cancer (OPTEC), a statewide program funded by Pelotonia that provides genetic testing to Ohio women diagnosed with endometrial (uterine) cancer and members of their families. The goal is to improve the standard of care and save lives.
What motivates Cohn to take on new challenges is simple.
“The greatest joy for me is taking care of patients, and everything else I’ve done—the research and the leadership roles—comes from that,” he says. “Our vision is to create a cancer-free world; that’s what drives me.”
As chief medical officer at The James, Cohn makes physician wellness—an often-overlooked facet of medicine—one of his top priorities. “Our culture at The James is to take care of patients, each other and ourselves, but taking care of ourselves can fall by the wayside with a remarkable team of physicians and staff who sacrifice themselves for their patients on a daily basis,” says Cohn.
Focusing on physician wellness is critical for a myriad of reasons. Physicians who provide cancer care can experience higher rates of burnout. From working tirelessly to deliver patient care, having to deliver bad news and frequently dealing with suffering, these physicians can find themselves in need of improved work/life balance so they can continue to provide the highest levels of compassionate care.
“It’s imperative that our physicians take care of themselves,” says Cohn, noting that those efforts will entail making some adjustments in logistical responsibilities, as well as demonstrating the importance of finding time to exercise, engage in outside-work activities, meditate and spend quality time with family, friends and colleagues.
“This level of support is necessary for our remarkable team to continue delivering the high quality of care for which The James is known,” he says, adding that maintaining physician wellness partly involves a shift in habits. “When you start your job, after your residency or fellowship, all you know how to do is work 80 hours a week. Trying to find that sweet spot between your professional and personal life is difficult. It took me several years to figure it out.”
Cohn has found that sweet spot with the help of cycling. “Cycling has changed my life for the better,” he reflects. “I’m in much better shape physically, which is so important, and mentally. It keeps me sharp, it's my form of meditation and it allows me to more effectively care for my patients.”
It’s also another way Cohn personally contributes toward the OSUCCC – James vision of a cancer-free world. He has ridden in all 10 of the Pelotonia cycling events that have taken place since 2009—events that have collectively raised more than $184 million for cancer research at Ohio State. Further demonstrating his athleticism, he recently traveled to France and climbed several of the most challenging cols (mountain passes) of the Alps.
As medical director of philanthropy, Cohn takes on a new challenge: deepening connections between the OSUCCC – James, the central Ohio community and beyond. “Once you share with people the life-changing research and the holistic and compassionate care being delivered here, the enthusiasm is contagious. They want to do what they can to support the vision of creating a cancer-free world,” he says. “It makes engaging people to be a part of the ‘James team’ an absolute pleasure. The key to this type of career is to love what you do.”