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‘If you are afraid of challenges, you have no future’Winds of change blow across National Cancer Center
[Interview]Lee opens 2nd chapter for NCC
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2018.04.10 11:22
  • Updated 2018.04.10 11:22
  • comments 0

Winds of change are blowing in National Cancer Center. Stirring up the wind is Dr. Lee Eun-sook, the first female president of NCC. Since she took office four months ago, Lee has worked without stopping to create a foundation for changes by, for instance, introducing staff rotation system to an organization that had seldom seen personnel reshuffle.

President Lee said she hoped NCC, which met 17th founding anniversary this year, would restore challenging spirits of its early days. That also explains why Lee has continuously stressed the catchphrase of “Rejuvenated Young NCC” since her inauguration. She firmly believes that an organization should make constant challenges and overcome limitations not to lag behind these rapidly changing times.

In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, Lee said she wants to inject vigor into NCC like the NCC’s early days when the newly born hospital made something out of nothing. Her goal is to open a second chap0ter for NCC through these efforts. While NCC has focused on standardizing cancer treatment so far, it should try to develop new therapeutic techniques and shift to rare, hard-to-treat cancer with which private medical institutions can hardly deal with while embracing the medically vulnerable classes.

Standing water that does not flow tends to go rotten. President Lee said she would become the leader of NCC who turns the hospital into flowing water, which continues to develop instead of remaining stagnant.

National Cancer Center President Lee Eun-sook talks about how she would operate NCC in the future, in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Question: You have emphasized the catchphrase of “Rejuvenated NCC” since taking office. What does that mean?
Answer: In its early days, NCC’s staff members racked their brains over the direction and vision of the newly born hospital. At some point, however, they began to remain complacent with the status quo. That shows why I emphasize “youthfulness” once again. When NCC made something out of nothing, it was challenging and enterprising.

Now, the future is hard to predict as the world is changing rapidly. If we are afraid of challenges, our future can become uncertain. And youth means we are ready to accept anything and open to everything. I told my staffs to make a young NCC in various ways.

While I am at the office, I will develop “seed-type projects” and make a bold investment into them. We will begin to develop those projects full of ideas, which may be seeds right now but will be able to become new growth engine several years or decades later.

Q: The Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing about many changes in the healthcare industry. What preparations is NCC making in this regard?
A: The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change hospitals in significant ways, based mainly on the Internet of Things. However, hospitals do not have this technology, and they have only to introduce and use the technology developed by business enterprises. Hospitals’ assets are the know-how and data accumulated from treating numerous patients.

People say data has the key to industrial revolution. As the technology to analyze and treat data develops and the artificial intelligence sophisticated, data has become new material comparable to rice or crude oil. The production, sharing, and use of valuable medical big data will make custom-made treatment possible and lead healthcare industry in the future.

National Cancer Center is trying hard to create successful examples of using and sharing medical big data by, for instance, developing platforms for establishing public health and medical data and pushing for the revision of related laws.

Q: NCC is an institution specializing in cancer treatment. However, critics point out that it has failed to differentiate from other institutions as the Big-5 hospitals compete to set up their cancer centers.
A: NCC is made up of four units. Especially, Graduate School of Cancer Science and Policy (GSCCP) and National Cancer Control Institute (NCCI) are the organizations only NCC has. GSCCP has a clear objective of accepting and training students from developing countries and helping them set up cancer policy in their respective countries later. NCCI plays the role of the think tank for cancer control and carries out various cancer-related projects.

When cancer treatment was not standardized, NCC has shown its samples, trained and produced a large number of medical workers. NCC seems to have fulfilled its initial missions. From now on, it should take up the part that cannot be handled by the private medical institutions. I think NCC ought to tackle incurable cancer, childhood cancer, and hospices which are avoided by private hospitals while taking care of people left in the dead angle of healthcare.

We need to reformat affiliated hospitals in part. Hospitals and research institutes are developing new medical technologies. We need hospitals that test the efficacy of new treatments and help their medical debut. Part of this hospital needs to serve as the testbed of new medical technology.

National Cancer Center plans to replenish 26 beds for hospice and palliative care and 40 beds for pediatric cancer in its affiliated hospital to be rebuilt with an additional 161 beds. It also provides more specialized services by opening outpatient clinics for female cancer and childhood cancer to diagnose and treat women and child patients more efficiently and help them return to society early.

Q: NCC is making lively exchanges with the national cancer centers of foreign countries, including China, Japan and Indonesia. Why do you think the international exchange is essential?
A: NCC has received extension designation as the cooperative center for cancer control and prevention by World Health Organization, establishing a partnership with WHO throughout the full cycle of cancer. Also, it has formed partnerships with global cancer institutions, such as U.S. National Cancer Institute and National Cancer Center Japan, for joint research. We are pushing for overseas cooperation with many foreign institutions that want to learn our national cancer control and operational know-how.

By exchanging diverse views on joint missions and discussing how to cooperate on agenda facing national cancer centers, we can grow together. Notably, we have relatively more rooms for cooperation regarding cancer research and management with national cancer centers of Japan and China, which have similar genetic and sociocultural backgrounds with Korea.

Q: Are there foreign role models for NCC?
A: In our early days, NCC would like to become like the U.S. NCI regarding research spending. NCI holds sway over entire cancer research outlay. A single institution has the final say over whole cancer-related budget and its direction. However, things are a little different in Korea now.

In some ways, NCC is better than NCI. NCI has an affiliated hospital, but it is not for treating patients but for testing new technology. NCI has no graduate school, either. We have an associated hospital that can conduct a clinical study and a separate research institute at GSCCP. NCC is the only national cancer institute in the world with such a system. As far as cancer is concerned, we can handle it more comprehensively. Many developing countries want to benchmark our model.

Q: How many medical workers has GSCCP produced?
A: The number is not very large regarding the number of graduates. However, it is running curriculums to help each student grow into a next-generation leader in cancer control and management. Since we opened the school in 2014, it has produced 72 graduates – 39 masters of public health and 32 masters of science – and 26 of them are foreigners. The foreign graduates have returned to their countries and are working in various areas, such as universities, hospitals and governments.

There are 66 students now, 16 of whom are taking Ph. D. courses. Among them are 27 international students who came from countries such as Rwanda, Mongol, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Cameroon, Cambodia and the Philippines.

President Lee, who has answered up all her questions throughout the interview, turned prudent faced with the query, “How you would like to be remembered as an NCC head?” Lee, who said she had many objectives to attain during her tenure, said, “I would like to hear people say, ‘You did a good job at least in this one area.’” However, Lee said, she would continue to think over what “that one area” would be. “I will try to remain open always so that anyone can present her or his opinion to me.”


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