Mr. H and the rallying cry

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Recently I had the distinct honor of delivering the keynote address for the Doctors' Choice Awards, an event sponsored by the Association of Medical Media. I was more than pleased to do it.

However, if you look up “keynote address,” you'll find that it describes a speech that communicates “unity and enthusiasm.” Contrast that task with my belief that the healthcare promotion business will not uniformly grow, become bigger or more profitable. I think that many people in our industry will not become more prosperous, and some—perhaps many— of us may encounter situations where our prosperity declines.

Well, my message to the Doctors' Choice audience, and to you, is not just to “buck up.” Instead, I'll tell you why I go to work every morning. I think you'll find room for “unity and enthusiasm” there.

In my last semester of pharmacy school, I spent a couple of weeks in a clinical rotation on an oncology floor at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Ann Arbor, MI. 

My very first patient was a gentleman named “Mr. H.” Mr. H. introduced himself to me by promptly puking on my shoes. This was understandable as he had oat cell carcinoma and was getting treated with, I think, an anthracycline and a platinum compound which caused a lot of nausea. We just didn't have the drugs for nausea in the early '80s that we have today.

Well, over the course of the next couple weeks we actually got Mr. H. into remission… with oat cell, even today, that's close to miraculous. And I learned to really like him. He reminded me of a coach I had in high school and I admired the hell out of him.

Then, the chemotherapy that was extending his life compromised his white cell count and he contracted a fungal infection and died of pneumonia.

And I decided that I didn't want to watch people die for a living and went to school to get my MBA. And then chose to work in our industry, where people don't die when you make a mistake.

In 1996 I got the opportunity to work on the most rewarding business in my life so far. I worked on Amgen's Neupogen (filgrastim), which tells your body to make more white blood cells, so you cannot get infections while undergoing chemotherapy treatment and ultimately, get the chemotherapy you need to be cured, especially in cancers like early stage breast cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma…or even oat cell carcinoma.

The work was rewarding from a business sense. In just five years, we grew Neupogen from $400 million to $1.1 billion, and went from a penetration of 14% in early stage breast cancer to a penetration of 42%.

But the important part, the part that made going to work special and fun and exciting to me, was that: I got to beat fungal infections and bacterial infections and a lot of people who might have died…didn't.

I promise you, my friends, that a difference like that makes a difference in whether you can wake up every morning and hold your head up high or not.

Let me offer a rallying cry to each of you: “They don't do this selling Happy Meals.”

Let that be our industry's rallying cry. Each of us has the privilege, still, of working in a business where the end product really does promote and enhance people's health. That's worth a helluva lot to me.

Jay Carter is senior vice president, director of client services, at AbelsonTaylor. Carter was the keynote speaker at the AMM's Doctors' Choice Awards luncheon held Sept. 24 in New York City
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