Dear CHOP Alumni Family,

I’m excited to share this year’s installment of Interviews with the Giants! This year, I sat down with Dr Alan Cohen, who has been a CHOP hematologist for 50 years and served as the Physician-in-Chief and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics for 12 years (2001-2013). Dr Cohen is still busy working on behalf of patients and CHOP. We sat down to discuss the field of hematology and his career at CHOP, and I hope you enjoy these comments from our conversation.

What is CHOP is like now compared to when you first started in 1891?!

1891—? Not quite. Two of the major changes at CHOP compared to when I started in 1972 are its physical size and its culture, both due in large part to its move from Bainbridge Street to West Philadelphia and its proximity to the Penn Medical School campus. These changes facilitated an expansion of the clinical and research missions with a concomitant growth in educational activities, especially in the residency and fellowship training programs. This came at the cost of the intimacy of the smaller facility and staff, but with all the rewards of becoming a national and international leader in pediatrics.

What was most surprising about your career?

The most surprising part of my career has been the wealth of opportunities to participate in a wide variety of activities and to enjoy the education that was to come with not only different roles within CHOP but also activities with professional and advocacy groups outside of CHOP. I never anticipated the joy that would come from interacting with so many interesting, wise and gracious colleagues across the country and beyond.

What are you most proud of in your career?

On the clinical side, I am particularly proud of the impact our team has had on the treatment of thalassemia, with a visible change in the course of the disease and the quality and length of life for affected individuals. On the education and career development side, I am proud of my involvement in various capacities to ensure that CHOP is a place where the best students and trainees want to come to learn and the best faculty want to come to establish or pursue their careers. And from my years as department chair I am particularly proud of the Master Clinician Awards that formally recognized our truly outstanding physicians and the Chair’s Initiatives that demonstrated the power of interdisciplinary collaboration.

The field of pediatric hematology has advanced tremendously over the past 50 years. What recent changes are most exciting?

There is almost nothing in pediatric hematology that isn’t exciting these days. New treatments based on remarkable scientific progress have changed the course of almost every major blood disorder. Molecular characterization of many hematologic diseases has not only improved our diagnostic capabilities, but has paved the way for targeted therapies, changing the outlook for many children. Curative therapy for both bleeding disorders and hemoglobinopathies is on the near horizon. Blood transfusions, a mainstay of pediatric hematology, are far safer. And I am thrilled that all of these advances have deep roots at CHOP.

What advice do you have for physicians who are entering the senior years of their careers?

Enjoy your younger colleagues and learn from them. I am surrounded by incredibly bright individuals who are generous with their time and keep me both well informed and energetic.

After 50 years, I imagine that you are starting to think about stepping away from clinical practice. When that time comes, what will you miss most about your clinical work?

When I do retire from clinical work (not sure when that will be at the moment), I will miss my patients, families, and colleagues. That latter group includes not just the clinical staff (special shout out to the nurses and staff in Hematology and on 5WA), but also my many friends in security, administration, front desk staff, environmental services, and so many others. I referred to them as friends, but they actually feel like family.

Thank you, Alan; I do enjoy this new Alumni Notes tradition. We hope to have seen many of you at the Pediatric Academic Society meeting this spring. Until next time, remember: Keep … Tradition, Keep … in Mind, Keep … in Touch!

With warmest wishes,

Cindy W. Christian, MD

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