Hematology/Oncology Chief and Faculty Position - an Interview with Dr. Mertens, VP and Medical Director of Cancer Services at Baystate Health

Baystate Health’s acclaimed Hematology and Oncology Department is looking for a new Division Chief. We sat down with Dr. Wilson Mertens, the current VP and Medical Director of Cancer Services to learn more about the department and the kind of candidate they are seeking for Chief. 

Dr. Mertens explained what makes the cancer services at Baystate Health unique.
“We are the largest cancer provider in western Massachusetts. We’re a four-hospital system and our cancer program has facilities in Springfield, Greenfield, and Ware Massachusetts. We see about 2800 new cancer patients a year throughout the health system; most of the action is at Baystate’s flagship tertiary care hospital in Springfield. All cancer treatment specialties except bone marrow/stem cell transplant are available here. We’re lucky to be supported by world-class radiology and pathology departments, so critical to modern, effective team-based cancer care. In addition, we have a purpose-built ambulatory cancer center in Springfield, which has been open 14 years now, that service between 250 and 400 patients a day. We are currently expanding our infusion suite and pharmacy. As well, we are modernizing our entire complement of radiation imaging and treatment equipment: our program boasts four linear accelerators, capable of intensity-modulated radiation therapy, more conventional three-dimensional therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiotherapy. In addition, high-dose rate brachytherapy and pediatric radiotherapy are offered; we are the only cancer program in the region to do so.”


baystate medical center
Baystate is known for being a world-class research institution, particularly in the areas of population health and outcome and implementation research, and we asked Dr. Mertens to give us an insight into the type of research that was being conducted in his division.
“Here at Baystate, our cancer program is primarily focused on clinical research. The clinical trials we offer have focused on randomized phase II and III trials. We offer clinical trials from the National Cancer Institute, ECOG/ACRIN, NRG, and COG, as well as pharmaceutical industry trials. Quality improvement studies have also been a major academic focus of ours. Our program and the division are certified by ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI); we’ve been certified since 2010 and were among the first divisions in Massachusetts to be certified and remain are the only certified program in western Massachusetts. We are anticipating that the new division chief will help us in our goals of expanding our clinical research footprint.”


The new division chief will be working with an outstanding group of Baystate physicians. Dr. Mertens highlighted that “the division currently consists of 11 members including a palliative care physician. We supply clinical services wherever our program is represented, so that includes our community hospitals as well as the flagship. All of our oncologists are disease specialized, taking on a major interest in one or two diseases.
The division has a full three-year fellowship, with a total of six fellows in training. We participate in the Department of Medicine’s residency program and, excitingly, Baystate has opened a new Medical School, the University of Massachusetts Medical School-Baystate, affiliated with the campus in Worcester. We think this is an outstanding education opportunity for the faculty in our division as well as the incoming chief.
In terms of the culture of our division, we espouse advanced teamwork with a great deal of integration across disciplines. We work very closely with surgeons and radiation oncologists, so closely that we intentionally share clinic space on a daily basis. We try to break down those artificial clinical and administrative distinctions and barriers that are not particularly relevant to our patients or the diseases we treat. Everyone knows our mission, what our strategic goals are, and we really try to cooperate around how best we can deploy our resources to accomplish what we need. Overall, it’s a very collaborative, trusting, supportive environment. Our group is exceedingly stable and highly professional; we have very little turnover in the division, people really like working here.

To understand the new chief’s daily/weekly schedule, we asked Dr. Mertens to give his thoughts on what that the new chief could expect.

“Clinical credibility is a key factor in leading this division. The new chief would be engaged in clinical practice, somewhere between 0.4-0.5 clinical full-time equivalent (FTE), depending on their interests as well as their own side projects. On a day-to-day basis, they would be mentoring faculty, the fellowship program director and the fellows. They would participate in teaching our fellows, residents and medical students. They will also help set program strategies for clinical trials, scholarly work of the division and the cancer program as a whole, and assist in defining the clinical operations of the division and cancer program. They would also be working with the cancer program leadership team on budget preparation, capital needs, patient satisfaction and employee engagement issues, as well as quality processes and outcomes. Finally, Baystate is heavily into improving the value of the care we deliver; we have a Medicare ‘Next Gen’ Accountable Care Organization (ACO), a Medicaid ACO, our own health plan, and other value contracts. Most of the patients seen in our cancer program are in some form of ‘value’ arrangement, so how we deliver care must look very different from more conventional approaches.”

Given his experience and knowledge of Baystate Health, we asked Dr. Mertens to describe what the ideal candidate would look like. He was clear that the division is looking for a candidate who would be an integral member of the department growth.
We are really looking for someone with vision who can think about what would be best for our division and our role in healthcare as a whole in the next five to 10 years. We don’t have a specific disease interest in mind; we’d rather recruit a leader who can navigate complex organizations and changing care and payment landscapes, achieve a consensus around best practices and new approaches, and work with other key stakeholders collaboratively to achieve agreed-upon goals and targets. The candidate needs to be a capable and respected clinician; we would some flexibility in the kind of clinical work they’re willing to do and help to further enhance and develop the disease-specific practices our current faculty members have established. Ideally, he or she would know their way around more than just one disease type. We’re really looking for someone who is willing to fit in with the group, a leader who wants to win hearts and minds and respect.
The right candidate would have a good mix of clinical as well as administrative savvy, using both to position the division and program for the future.”

The Baystate Hematology/Oncology Department also has an opening for a faculty level position. We asked Dr. Mertens to describe what kind of a candidate they are looking for. 

“So, this position would be predominantly a clinical role, based at our Springfield hospital. The right candidate will have outstanding clinical, clinical research, and teaching skills. The clinical emphasis of this position is gastrointestinal and/or thoracic malignancies; an interest and ability in benign hematology would be an asset.  Our experienced physicians can provide excellent mentorship to those early in their careers. Overall, we are looking for the right candidate, someone with a strong work ethic, the right personality, energy, and flexibility. It is more important to us that the candidate works well with our team and has the correct temperament for this environment. In terms of the candidate’s level of experience, we can be pretty flexible. Our group is very stable so ideally we are looking for someone who is interested in staying and growing with us.”

Sound like an opportunity for you? Learn more about our positions and apply online. To learn more about the Hematology/Oncology Division Chief position, click here. 

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Author:Pam Snyder