Breast cancer specialist Haley selected for 2013 Watson Award

By Jan Jarvis

Dr. Haley
Barbara Haley, M.D.

A handwritten letter, a snapshot from a high school graduation, or a portrait of a bride can all remind Dr. Barbara Haley of why she became a physician.

“When I receive something unexpectedly, it makes me realize the role I play in people’s lives by being their doctor,” said Dr. Haley, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a breast cancer specialist. “The message is a ‘thank you’ for helping them to stay alive and being able to experience their goals.”

Dr. Haley’s commitment to treating the whole person, and not just the breast cancer, has won her the admiration of patients and the recognition of her colleagues. As the recipient of the 2013 Patricia and William L. Watson Jr., M.D., Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine, Dr. Haley exemplifies UT Southwestern’s commitment to outstanding patient care.

Watson Award Lecture

The 2013 Watson Award will be presented to Dr. Haley in conjunction with the Patricia and William L. Watson Jr., M.D., Visiting Lecture. This year’s speaker is Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. Kenneth I. Shine.

“Dr. Haley has dedicated herself to her patients and working toward better treatment options,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “She is consistently characterized as a compassionate physician who is committed to understanding the full range of a patient’s needs and to delivering comprehensive care and treatment that considers the whole patient.”

The Watson Award is made possible by a gift from Dr. Watson, a graduate of UT Southwestern Medical School, and his wife. Their intent was to create an opportunity for the UT Southwestern community to recognize a faculty physician who has had a profound impact on students, trainees, colleagues, and patients through excellence in clinical care. Nominations were submitted to a committee chaired by Dr. Willis Maddrey, Assistant to the President and Professor of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Haley said that with so many dedicated clinicians at UT Southwestern, she never expected to receive such an honor and is humbled by the award.

Although she is internationally recognized for her research and has been a leader in clinical trials that have led to significant advancements in chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biologic agents, it’s her relationship with patients that Dr. Haley finds most satisfying.

“It’s very gratifying because we have a lot of drugs to offer patients today, and patients do very well,” she said. “It makes you feel empowered because you have something you can offer to a lot more patients.”

When breast cancer affects several generations, it’s easy to develop a bond with the family, Dr. Haley said. In one family she treated, the mother had metastatic breast cancer and the daughter opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy, only to learn she already had tumors in both breasts.

“Since I treated the mother and the daughter, I felt a very close bond to them,” Dr. Haley said. “Although the mother did not survive, the daughter has a chance to remain free of breast cancer and raise her own daughter.”

Dr. Haley said she believes UT Southwestern’s multidisciplinary team approach improves outcomes and that treating the whole patient makes a difference.

“You can’t just take care of the breast cancer,” she said. “There’s so much more to it than chemo.”

Dr. Haley’s insight into how breast cancer affects women psychologically, emotionally, and physically has influenced how she cares for patients at all stages of their lives.

“When I look at women in their 20s and 30s, I see how very afraid they are for their children,” Dr. Haley said. “They haven’t seen their kids through the steps of growing up, and they want so desperately to be there for them.”

But the diagnosis is no less poignant for an elderly woman.

“When an older woman is sitting across from me with her husband of many years by her side, I can see how broken both of their hearts are,” she said.

It’s that kind of compassion that has enhanced her reputation as a physician who has had a profound impact on patients, students, and colleagues.

Dr. Haley’s approach to patient care has served as a mentor model for fellows, staff, and faculty, said Dr. Eugene Frenkel, Professor of Internal Medicine and Radiology.

“From her early days in medicine, she has manifested the classic picture of a physician dedicated to understanding patients and their problems with warm interest, careful evaluation, and a compassionate approach to their care,” said Dr. Frenkel, who has known Dr. Haley since she was a medical student.

Ironically, oncology was not Dr. Haley’s first choice when she graduated from UT Southwestern in 1976.

“I thought I would be a great liver doctor,” she said.

After completing her residency and a hematology-oncology fellowship at Parkland Memorial Hospital, she ran a cancer clinic in Oak Cliff before being recruited to UT Southwestern to help develop the hematology/oncology outpatient clinic. Being part of a team caring for patients with breast cancer has remained the focus of her work.

No matter her specialty, though, she has “always wanted to be a doctor helping patients,” she said.

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Dr. Frenkel holds the Raymond D. and Patsy R. Nasher Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, the Elaine Dewey Sammons Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, and the A. Kenneth Pye Professorship in Cancer Research.

Dr. Haley holds the Charles Cameron Sprague, M.D., Chair in Clinical Oncology.

Dr. Maddrey holds the Adelyn and Edmund M. Hoffman Distinguished Chair in Medical Science and the Arnold N. and Carol S. Ablon Professorship in Biomedical Science.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

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