Curious Dr. George | Plumbing the Core and Nibbling at the Margins of Cancer

Life After Oncology

Professor Michael Baum, Professor Emeritus of Surgery & Visiting Professor of Medical Humanities, University College, London, UK;

Q: You have recently decided to “withdraw from the field” after a distinguished multi-decade career in Surgical Oncology. Many of our readers will confront a similar choice. How do you see your life evolving from here on?

A: I qualified as a doctor in 1960 and was appointed to my first chair of surgery, at Kings College London 20 years later. In 1981, I established the first clinical trials center for cancer in the UK in my department. To succeed in that field, I needed to become cognizant of the latest teachings in moral and scientific philosophy. Ten years later I was headhunted for the chair of surgery at the Royal Marsden Hospital, the center for our National Institute of Cancer Research. Finally, I was tempted to take up an offer of a professorship at University College London in 1997, during which time I helped develop a course in “Medical Humanities”. In the UK, you are not encouraged to continue operating after the age of 70, so I relinquished my clinical chair but was kept on as visiting professor of Medical Humanities.
I continued my role in running RCTs for the treatment of solid tumors but had time to teach my students on the role of moral and scientific philosophy, history, literature, theatre and fine art, in the practice of medicine. I was also editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Surgery. I honed my skills in creative writing through the medium of my monthly editorials.
All my life I’ve loved drawing and painting, so I filled up the remainder of my time by studying painting in art schools. My ambition was to become a full-time author and artist when I eventually retired. Trouble was that the older I got, the more I became interested in the study of oncology! I then tried to combine my enthusiasm for science, art, and literature by writing provocative papers such as “Does breast cancer exist in a state of chaos?” [1] and “Why does the weeping willow weep?” [2] Eventually, as I was approaching my 80th birthday my family ganged up on me to abandon all my academic activities and long-haul trips to conferences, encouraging me to fully retire to write books and paint “great works of art”! My last trip was to deliver a talk on intraoperative radiotherapy in Las Vegas in early May and I’m happy to say that I survived that experience to celebrate my 80th on May 31st. Since then one of my art works has appeared on the cover of the Red J [3] and my second novel, “Aaron’s Rod” [4] (linked to my interests in Biblical archaeology) was published this month.
I consider myself lucky to have survived the rigors of a life in surgical oncology long enough to relaunch myself in a new career or two. I strongly recommend all oncologists to plan for their retirement, not only in financial terms, but also to maintain the health of their brain.
Professor Baum’s contact info is included in the author affiliations at the top of this page.

  1. Baum M, Chaplain M, Anderson A, Douek M, Vaidya JS. Does breast cancer exist in a state of chaos? Eur J Cancer 1999; 35: 886–91.
  2. Baum.M, Why Does the Weeping Willow Weep? Reconceptualizing Oncogenesis in Breast Cancer. N Engl J Med 373;13, September 24, 2015

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