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Talks with Docs: John Ward, Breast Oncologist and Hematologist

Photo of Kirstyn Brownson

Video Transcript

I don’t think I could be the physician that I am without having been widely read about many subjects and many different people.

I’m John Ward and I’m a hematologist-oncologist who has been on the faculty at the University of Utah since 1982. I’ve been a member of Huntsman Cancer Institute since its inception and I’m currently the interim senior director of clinical affairs and the interim physician-in-chief.

What is the role of physician-in-chief?

As physician-in-chief, it’s my responsibility to see that the clinical affairs of Huntsman Cancer Hospital are in line with the values of Huntsman Cancer Institute, which include patient first, united effort, and excellence in all we do. It’s my job to assure that we not only deliver quality care but we deliver it in a compassionate, patient-centered way.

Why did you choose to specialize in cancer?

My father was a rheumatologist and my mother was a nurse and I always had the goal to be a physician. I returned to the University of Utah to do a hematology-oncology fellowship. As hematology-oncology fellows, we are exposed to both blood cancers, benign hematology, but also malignant diseases and over the course of time it became clear there were great challenges in taking care of other cancers—specifically breast cancer. That has led to the choices I’ve made over the years to become a breast cancer specialist.

What have you learned from your patients?

One example is an elderly man faced with an unusual malignancy at an advanced age who was 85. He taught me a valuable lesson about age. He told me that he may be 85 chronologically but physiologically he was 65, intellectually he was 55, and spiritually he was a mere child. I think this an example of courage and of insight that I, as a much younger person at that time, learned that everybody has different expectations, everybody has different backgrounds, and everybody has different goals.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I’m a voracious reader. I tend to buy about 1.6 books for every book I read. I’m currently dejunking books by bringing in the extra books and putting them in the bookcases scattered around Huntsman Cancer Hospital. The fact that I read a lot has given me a broad appreciation for so many things. I don’t think I could be the physician that I am without having been widely read about many subjects and many different people. I think many people now go into medicine from backgrounds like English literature or anthropology and I think that they bring a great deal to it.

What do you hope to achieve at Huntsman Cancer Institute?

When I was young I might have envisioned that a goal would be to cure everybody. But over the course of time it’s become clear that even if cure is not a possibility that helping people live beyond their previously expected life expectancy and have high quality doing so. It’s been very satisfying. You get to meet people at delicate times of their life where they’re faced with great challenges and you get to see great courage in the face of adversity. It’s an honor to be associated with people in those difficult times and often people do far better than they ever expected.