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Leadership in Healthcare

Dr. Roy Jensen: A Journey to Saving Lives – Joel Goldberg Media

Leadership / June 14, 2022

Leadership – in healthcare or in baseball – is a journey, not a destination.

As a motivational speaker, I draw on my years of experience storytelling as a host and reporter for the Kansas City Royals to help teams in the corporate world. My interviews with players focus on topics like trust, communication and culture that apply to sports just as much as they do in business, and it’s a privilege to share those lessons with organizations so they can strengthen their own teams.

Rounding the Bases is my podcast about leadership and culture with a baseball twist, and regular discussions with business leaders keep my current with top of mind issues. One recent interview focused on leadership in healthcare. And it turns out, lessons from the baseball diamond even translate to the world of medicine.

Dr Jensen headshot for Joel Goldberg's podcast about leadership in healthcare

I was joined by the brains and unrelenting passion behind a truly remarkable achievement nearly two decades in the making. Dr. Roy Jensen is a brilliant pathologist, widely published scientific authority and the Director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

His vision put Kansas City on the map, medically speaking, and was a process he will admit was no walk in the park. With persistence, he led the effort in earning our region its first ever NCI designation, a major success in itself. But there was still room to become even better.  

Under Dr. Jensen’s tireless guidance, the University is now well on its way to becoming a comprehensive cancer center, a rare appointment reserved for the most elite. He’s on the cusp of the ultimate achievement, and only time will tell what he accomplishes next.


SINGLE: Leading the Change

Dr. Jensen built his team from the ground up. The University of Kansas had been successful for more than 100 years without a cancer center, so many asked, “Why now”? Dr. Jensen recruited the best group in the region to join him. And with commitment and connection, together they earned the prestigious NCI Designation. 


Double: Raising Resources

Storytelling sowed Dr. Jensen’s success. He successfully raised more than $1B in resources from organizers, government and philanthropy since his 2004 hire. In the years since, Dr. Jensen has continued to educate and his efforts have culminated into his most recent grant. It includes a 1.700 page document detailing the work that has been done as well as what’s left to do. 


TRIPLE: Abundant Capital

Dr. Jensen shared that for the first time in history, researchers’ progress is being bound by resources, not intellectual capital. To illustrate, in the past 10 years, there have been more than 50 leukemia drugs approved. In the 50 years prior, there were fewer than 10. There has never been a more exciting time to be at the forefront of cancer research. 


HOME RUN: Healthcare Leadership in Action 

When Dr. Jensen started this endeavor in 2004, Kansas City was the largest city in the United States without an NCI designated center. As a born and raised Kansas Citian, Dr. Jensen felt incredibly motivated to help bring one to the region.  Leading the effort and watching its impact was the realization of his ultimate professional purpose. 

Listen to the full interview here or tune in to Rounding the Bases every Monday and Thursday, available wherever you get your podcasts. 

Learn more about Leadership in Healthcare from Joel

Book Joel Goldberg for your next corporate event. He draws on over 25 years of experience as a sports broadcaster. In addition, he also brings unique perspectives and lessons learned from some of the world’s most successful sports organizations. Whatever your profession, Joel is the keynote speaker who can help your team achieve a championship state of mind.

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Full Transcript:

Joel Goldberg 0:00
Hey welcome into another edition of Rounding the Bases presented by Community America Credit Union. I’m Joel Goldberg. Quick shout out to my friends at Chief of Staff Kansas City, they are placing all levels of every job from executives to temp, and everything in between. Really proud to partner with them. You can check them out at chiefofstaffkc.com. Chiefofstaffkc.com, Making connections that matter. One of the beautiful things, I think about this podcast, whether it’s baseball, and it occasionally is or the business world or whatever, the profession. We’re all interested in leadership. We’re all interested, I believe in making a difference and building strong cultures. And so I just love being able to jump in and out of so many different fields, and a couple of people from the medical field on in the last couple of years, I guess overall in the five years of this podcast and some of that focus, at least in the last couple years was on the pandemic, understandably so, as so many of us tried to learn more about this, this new world that we lived in. And today we’ll have a different doctor with a lot to talk abouteadership is a journey, not a destination. On today’s installment of Rounding the Bases I sit down with the brains and unrelenting passion behind a truly remarkable achievement nearly two decades in the making. Joining me is Dr. Roy Jensen, a brilliant pathologist widely published scientific authority and the director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center. His vision put Kansas City on the map, medically speaking, and was a process he will admit was no walk in the park. With persistence, he led the effort in earning our region its first ever NCI designation, a major success in itself. But there was still room to become even better. There always is. Under Dr. Jensen’s tireless guidance, the University is now well on its way to becoming a comprehensive cancer center, a rare appointment reserved for the most elite. He’s on the cusp of the ultimate achievement, and only time will tell what he accomplishes next. And so I’m excited to bring into the podcast right now wearing, wearing the the white medical coat which I don’t think I ever will because I’m not a doctor, but he is Dr. Jensen, how are you? I appreciate you joining.

Dr. Roy Jensen 2:33
Well, thanks for having me on Joel. It’s it’s really a pleasure to be on.

Joel Goldberg 2:38
Well, you know, it’s, I think I want to jump in with this before we talk about your background and everything. But one of my favorite questions to ask guests and not just guests on the podcast, but in life because it’s I think such a critical thing is His purpose. You know, what’s your purpose? And? And that’s it. That can be tough for a lot of people to answer, right? I mean, sometimes we’re just trying to pay the bills, we’re just trying to get by. You’ll hear a lot of people, myself included, saying, Well, I’m not solving the world’s problems. I’m not I’m not healing people. I just talked about baseball. Now I understand that that could put a smile on people’s faces, we hear from people that are in hospital beds that say, Hey, this is the one thing that we look forward to. But in your case, you truly are saving lives right now and down the road. So how do you view purpose and your your purpose in life?

Dr. Roy Jensen 3:23
Sure. Well, I think, you know, it’s been a pleasure to have such a strong purpose, which has been to bring an NCI designated cancer center to this region. When we got started with this endeavor back in 2004, Kansas City was the largest city in the United States that did not have an NCI designated center. And of course, I was born here, I grew up here. And I got to witness the impact that bringing an NCI designated center had on Nashville. And so when I got the opportunity to do that, for my hometown, it was very motivating.

Joel Goldberg 4:08
So lets, let’s explain to all of us laymen out there, what it means to have that designation and what what that entails.

Dr. Roy Jensen 4:17
Sure. So actually, the the Centers program at the National Cancer Institutes of Health was part of the National Cancer Act, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary last December. And it, that piece of legislation, which was signed by Richard Nixon, really transformed our whole approach towards cancer and cancer research in this country. And it created the Centers concept, which is basically a recognition that cancer is an enormously complex problem, and that we need to develop an infrastructure around bringing all sorts of disciplines together to make a difference against this disease. And that’s, in a nutshell, what a what a cancer center is.

Joel Goldberg 5:18
And so, I mentioned in the intro that there is still room to grow, that there is a path that will take you further, what is that? How does this all work?

Dr. Roy Jensen 5:28
Right. So only about 2% of, of institutions that treat cancer are in the Center, NCI Centers program. And it’s a two step process where first you come on as a cancer center. And then the next step up in the highest level of designation, is comprehensive status. And so in it, to use a baseball analogy, and I think I’m free to do that on this program. You know, becoming a cancer center was like, you know, becoming a Major League franchise, like when the Royals became, you know, a Major League franchise, again, in 2000, or 1969. And becoming a comprehensive cancer center is like making the playoffs. You know, you’re, you’re recognized as, among the best, and making some of the most significant contributions to our cancer research effort. And so obviously, that’s what we’ve been working towards, you know, for, you know, really since the beginning of this initiative, and, you know, if we’re blessed to achieve that, in the coming weeks, we’ll be very excited.

Joel Goldberg 6:56
So there’s obviously a lot that goes into this, there are a lot there’s a lot that has gone into this. And I’m just curious from a leadership standpoint, obviously, communication and certainly all the hard work that goes into it, what what does that all entail? And, and I’m of the firm belief that with the right people, and, you know, the right purpose, I talked about the right communication, the right leadership that anything is possible, as a leader yourself, how have you gone about leading in this endeavor?

Dr. Roy Jensen 7:26
You know, I think that’s absolutely right, Joel. And when I was hired into this position in 2004, there were three people at KU Medical Center, who had ever been on faculty at an NCI designated cancer center. And so, we had a lot of work to do, just introducing, you know, what, what was the concept? What was the, what was the rationale for why we wanted to become an NCI designated center, you know, the Medical Center had existed for, you know, probably 100 years almost, without having a cancer center. So why was this such an important initiative, and you know, that it was all about communication, and explaining why it made such a difference. And, you know, that, frankly, it took a while, but once people get it, then then they get it. And, you know, it was a combination of talking to people who are here already, and then recruiting people in who had, you know, experience at an NCI designated center and blending those folks together and, and building a team.

Joel Goldberg 8:45
So once you get that designation, how do things I mean, the simplest terms, how do things change? It’s got to one, be incredible for morale and pride right now, and not just within, within your staff, but within the community? I would think anybody that’s touched by the cancer center, but what what are the benefits?

Dr. Roy Jensen 9:04
Sure. So we’ve had incredible community support and, and it’s really phenomenal. How people have stepped up to the plate and and we have seen well over a billion dollars in resources from a whole host of, of different organizations and governmental entities and philanthropy feed into this effort. And it’s, it’s really about putting yourself out there and telling your story and allowing people to, you know, take a close look at what you’re accomplishing, what you’re about. And, you know, that is the process of becoming designated we, our latest Grant was 1700 pages, telling the story of the KU Cancer Center, what we have done and what we have put in place, and the level that we’re operating with now, and, and, you know, probably one of the best vignettes from that is, in the last grant period, we brought five new drugs, invented at KU, into the clinic, as new cancer treatments. And so, you know, that’s, that’s kind of the core function of what a cancer center should do is make discoveries, leverage them into benefits for our patients, and then make sure that everyone in your entire community has access to those advances.

Joel Goldberg 10:40
And there’s got to be such a trickle down to that as well, right? That I mentioned morale boost, I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it or not, but but the, the, the web, the of people, you know, whether it be patients or doctors or practitioners, whoever it is that get caught in this web slowly but surely, right.

Dr. Roy Jensen 11:00
Yeah. There’s no question about it. And, you know, we have all kinds of metrics to demonstrate the progress that we’ve made. You know, starting back in 2004, we treated about 1700 new cancer patients a year at KU. And now that number is 7000.

Joel Goldberg 11:20

Dr. Roy Jensen 11:21
And back in 2004, we had about four, 14 million in in terms of cancer related research, grant activity. And now, you know, it’s almost 90, when you count all components of that. So we have come an enormous way. And, you know, we’re super proud of what we’ve accomplished and, and we hope that we will, we will achieve comprehensive status over the next few months.

Joel Goldberg 11:56
One of the things I was thinking about a lot prior to this podcast, and, and even before I knew that we were going to be doing this is just this world that we have lived in, in the last two, three years, with COVID. Because as much as in some ways, it is divided this country, in my opinion, and I don’t get a whole lot into this unnecessarily with the politics that get in budgeting that you mentioned, Richard Nixon before and you know, sometimes good does come from policy and from politics, but especially in this day and age with social media, and just where we are in this world, it…there’s so much negativity. Yet, we all went through COVID. I guess, to some extent, we still are. I mean, you know, we just had, we just had some of our broadcasters that were we’re out with COVID Press be in a different duty, shoot, by the time this airs, you know, knock on wood, hopefully, you know, I’m fine. And everybody else around is fine. But we’re still dealing with it to an extent. But it affected every one of our lives. And I’m just curious how much and we’ve heard so much, certainly about frontline workers, you know, and emergency rooms and all of that. But there’s a trickle down to that, I would imagine, too, right? I mean, your work can’t ever stop, yet it had to have changed, or at least throwing you a curveball. And I’m curious how you at from a leadership standpoint, handled that?

Dr. Roy Jensen 13:19
Oh, there’s no question about that. It’s had a, COVID had a huge impact upon our cancer center, we’ve we’ve published a fair number of articles talking about the fact that there was a big impact to the amount of cancer screening and prevention activities like mammography and colonoscopy, and things like that there was a huge drop off, especially in the spring and summer of 2020. And, you know, we still haven’t completely recovered from that yet. We also had to close off portions of our clinical research program, and prioritize which trials we were going to keep open. And so if you talk to people like Henry C. Aleena, with the National Cancer Institute, there was, any typical Cancer Center experienced anywhere from a 20 to 40% decrease in the number of patients that they put on clinical trials during COVID. So it’s had a huge impact. It differentially impacts cancer patients who are especially vulnerable to COVID. And so, you know, we had to examine pretty much everything that we did in the cancer center, from top to bottom, especially as it related to working with and interacting with our patients.

Joel Goldberg 14:53
Yeah, and some of that, too. I mean, I know my mom was going through treatments at the time and sometimes it was just something as simple I mean, Maybe not so simple as her going in for treatments and my dad having to wait in the car that might seem like a simple thing, but you talk about the emotions involved them, you know, and you’re in the, in the business of saving lives before making lives better of putting people at ease. I mean, that’s, that’s a big part of it, too. So how much were you? Look, I mean, you’re a medical expert, yet you are dealing with this on the fly just like the rest of the the world and having to adjust and learn as you’re going people are still trying to learn about, you know, about this virus, I guess. And we still don’t have all the answers. But how, how much did you have to adjust on the fly? And I suspect you don’t want to be in the business of having to make decisions over who gets what and who doesn’t get what, but I suspect that’s a little bit of what you were up against?

Dr. Roy Jensen 15:47
Yeah. Well, I think that there were a couple of things that I think, put us at a at a good advantage there. One of which is our cancer center stretches across multiple campuses. And as a result, we already had the infrastructure in place for zoom, and teleconferencing and telemedicine and all of that kind of activity. So, you know, our medical center as a whole went from about zero to 60, on telemedicine in about a two week period of time. Thank goodness, we already had the infrastructure in place, we could just adapt and switch over to it. But if it hadn’t been for that, it would have been a total disaster. No, no question about it. You know, the other thing is, you point out that, you know, the guidelines were constantly shifting, and that was nobody’s fault. It’s just as we learned more about the virus, we got smarter about how to deal with it. We have a bunch of great clinicians in our cancer center. And we came together very early in the process. And we decided that most likely, this was an aerosol transmitted virus, that we had to have personal protective equipment for both patients and physicians, and that we would change that as the data came in. But, you know, I’m, I’m really proud of that decision, I think it was the right decision to make. And as a result, you know, I, we don’t think that there’s been a single instance of the virus being transmitted from one of our patients to another one of our patients, or from one of our staff, to one of our patients. You know, PPE works. And we were very focused on that about as early as anybody in this pandemic, and I think that really paid off.

Joel Goldberg 18:06
Yeah, again, I don’t want to get, I just, I’m lucky I get to, for the most part, talk about sports. So I mean, I could deal with, I’m used to fans when they get upset teams losing, that type of thing. But I always try to stay out of the politics, but at the same time, you know, I sit there, I look at it, like if doctors are saying PPE works. If they’re saying wear a mask, then I’m probably going to listen and do that. Because you guys are the experts. You got, I mean, you know, you grew up studying science. I wasn’t very good in my science classes. I was better in English and journalism and all that kind of stuff. So is it as simple as that? And I’m not trying to solve the world’s problems here. But is it as simple as just messaging taking the politic, politics out of it? I’m to me medicine is medicine.

Dr. Roy Jensen 18:50
Yeah. Well, you know, when I when I take my car into get fixed, I don’t hang around and offer suggestions to the mechanic. I’ll just put it that way, you know?

Joel Goldberg 19:02
Yep. Fair enough. And, hey, I can talk. I hope I can talk pretty well on TV. I also don’t don’t give advice to the hitting coach or the pitching coach or whatever. I will have fans sometimes they’ll say to me, “Hey, you need to tell the hitting coach that they needed to…” Like, yeah, they know what they’re doing already. So yeah, we’re on the same page, as far as that one goes. One of the things that at least really rang true to me throughout the pandemic. It’s always been the case. But again, I see this in all walks of life. I see it with baseball. I’ll give you an example. In baseball. We are such a sport of tradition, which I love. I’m an old school guy. I’m a traditionalist, yet, we see innovation all the time, whether it be in technology, whether it be looking and saying maybe there’s a better way to play this game and then I’ll hear from people and they’ll say why would you do that? We’ve always done it this way. This is a but wait a minute, the world changes and so whether that be baseball by that’d be the technology that you talked about. I mean, imagine if this pandemic had hit 30 years ago, and you would have found a way we all would have, but you wouldn’t have had to tell a practice that you do now. So I think one of the benefits or positives, I’m a glass half full guy, in the pandemic is it taught us that we could do things, different ways that we have to be able to move forward. But you’ve been in that business, I suspect your whole life in terms of innovation, in terms of in terms of research. So it’s a long way of me asking how excited you are right now about where we’re at, in terms of the world of cancer, cancer research? It just, to me, it feels like there’s so much hope right now, over over certain cancers and certain diagnoses that weren’t there before.

Dr. Roy Jensen 20:47
Oh, there’s, there’s no question about that. And I think that, with that question, this is the most exciting time to be in cancer research that there’s ever been, basically, there…Any experiments that we can devise, we pretty much have the technology to do these days, you know. We can, we can sequence the DNA of a single cell, we can isolate the proteins from, you know, any type of cell we want, we can, we can do so many things that, you know, I, I think the cancer research community in particular, is just bursting with new ideas. And I’ll give you one statistic to back that up. In the last 10 years, almost all of the increase in grant applications that have come in to the National Institutes of Health, which is the big federal government agency that funds biomedical research in this country, almost all of the increase has been attributable to new cancer grants coming in. And so that means that people are just busting with new ideas, new approaches. And I think, you know, we have never been in a period where there have been so many new cancer drugs that have been approved, like we’re in right now. I would just had a seminar yesterday, we had from an outside speaker, and he put up a slide that showed that in the last 10 years, there’s been more than 50 leukemia drugs approved. And in the previous 50 years, there weren’t 10. So I mean, it’s just, it’s astounding the pace of change, and progress that’s being made. It’s we’re in a resource limited situation. Right now. We’re not in an idea-limited situation.

Joel Goldberg 22:54
And I suspect that bodes well for all the kids. I call them kids. They’re all kids to me now coming out of medical school and the younger generation that is coming into a time different than when when you came up, of course, when you came up, it was different than the generation before that that’ll be true till the end of time. But it’s got to be an exciting time for anyone that is going into your field, I would assume.

Dr. Roy Jensen 23:14
Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it is a great. I think it’s a great time to be in, in medicine, because you can make such a difference. And it’s a great time to be in biomedical research because of all the opportunities that are opening up.

Joel Goldberg 23:29
Well said. Okay, let’s get to the baseball theme questions. By the way. I think you have a baseball name. I don’t know if it would be like, you know, the natural Roy Hobbs, or Roy sounds like a good, you know, baseball first name, I guess. But let’s talk let’s talk from a professional standpoint about your biggest homerun hit. You’ve obviously done a lot so far. And and those around you how would you sum up? Or what would you say is your biggest homerun?

Dr. Roy Jensen 23:54
Sure. Well, I think without question, the biggest home run was getting that first stage of, of Cancer Center designation back in 2012. That was a huge lift for this whole area, let alone our institution. And like I said, we were blessed with enormous community support that that made a tremendous difference. And so with that question, that was the most satisfying thing that I’ve done in my career.

Joel Goldberg 24:25
So I suspect that the Grand Slam if we’re going to use baseball terms, you’re guilty of doing that, hopefully the Grand Slam is coming up in a matter of weeks, yeah?

Dr. Roy Jensen 24:33
So that was so the first one was like hitting a home run, you know, walk off home run bottom on the ninth. This would be hitting the grand slam home run walk off bottom of the ninth, you know?

Joel Goldberg 24:44
Yeah, no, of course, all teams win, that’s the only difference. So that’s, that’s the good news on on that. Okay, how about a swing and a miss and they’re always going to be a lot of them over the course of a career. A swing and a miss and what did you learn from it?

Dr. Roy Jensen 24:57
Yeah. So five years after we achieved designation, we had to go back in for to renew our designation. And at that time, we were eligible to see comprehensive status. Now, we put a lot of work and effort into moving up to competency status. Granted, it was a, that was a pretty quick turnaround. Usually, you know, the typical time between designation and comprehensive status is probably 15 to 20 years. And so we were definitely pushing it. But, you know, we were not successful five years ago. And there’s a whole host of reasons around that, which we don’t have time to go into. But one little tidbit there is that the NCI, after reviewing our application, actually decided to change the rules. And to establish that no newly designated cancer center could apply for comprehensive status until they had been an NCI designated Center for 10 years. And so we’re now under the new rules, which allow us to apply for comprehensive status. And so I feel good about it, in large part, because we’ve now had a 10 year sustained period of time where we are pushing, pushing, pushing to achieve this level of designation. And I think that’s been good for us. It’s been good for our patients. And hopefully that effort will bear fruit.

Joel Goldberg 26:42
We shall see hopefully, very soon. And final baseball theme question is small ball. And I like to sum up small ball from a baseball standpoint, it’s the bunts, it’s the sacrifices, it’s the defense. It’s what doesn’t necessarily show up in the box, where I said all the time on our postgame show, hey, this guy went 0 for 3, or this guy went 0 for 4, but he hit the ball hard, and nobody’s gonna see that in the box score. But yet, it’s important. It does matter. Small ball, to me, are the little things that add up to the big results. What is small ball in your world?

Dr. Roy Jensen 27:12
Yeah. Well, I think, you know, one thing that I would say is that, it’s all about taking care of your people. And that doesn’t matter if it’s, you know, your deputy director, or, you know, the person who, you know, cleans your office at night. It doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t make a difference, you, they all got to be feel like they’re part of the team. And if you, if you do that, it just makes it so much easier, and so much more fun. And, you know, you’re gonna be putting in the effort anyway. So you might as well make it easy on yourself and make it more fun. You know?

Joel Goldberg 27:56
I think that applies to any team in any walk of life in any part of the world, he take care of your people. And that’s what David Glass the lead owner of the Royals would always say. He said you do nothing in life without people. And I don’t know a whole lot of jobs where it’s one person and you have no clients or anything. So no doubt about it. The best teams, the best cultures take care of their people and everyone that surrounds it as well, not just your own people. So this has been great. I want to wish you the best of luck with the comprehensive status student. Do you have an idea timeframe wise, is that the summer or June? July?

Dr. Roy Jensen 28:30
Yes. So we will hear from the NCI in the latter part of June and then we’re gonna have a public announcement in the first part of of July.

Joel Goldberg 28:42
All right. Well, best of luck with that, hoping for the best. It’s obviously life’s work for you and all those that are working with you and certainly great for Kansas City and the region as well. Dr. Roy Jensen has been my latest guest on Rounding the Bases. appreciate all the work that you have done. So many people impacted lives saved and thanks for spending time with me today. All right.

Dr. Roy Jensen 29:05
Thank you