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How This Doctor Uses a Team Mentality to Tackle Complex Cancers

Whether it’s playing hockey or caring for patients at Mass General Cancer Center, Dr. Ted Hong is a big believer in the power of teamwork in achieving goals. As Director of Gastro-Intestinal (GI) Radiation Oncology at Mass General, he says that collaborative mentality is crucial when caring for patients with complex GI cancers and has been key toward the clinic’s success in helping patients lead longer and healthier lives.

“Any time I see a patient, I never view the patient as being my own patient,” says Dr. Hong. “I view the patient as being a patient of the hospital. I’m always seeking input from the medical oncologists and surgeons about how we’re going to best take care of a patient.”

Dr. Hong says much of that team drive comes from lessons learned on the hockey rink, a favorite hobby of his since growing up in Connecticut. He says the sport has taught him the importance of trusting your teammates’ unique skills and working together to defeat your opponent.

“I love that hockey is most beautiful when players are passing it to each other and it looks like tic-tac-toe out there,” he says. “The individual play doesn’t interest me as much as the really beautiful passing and team play.”

That philosophy is why a typical day for Dr. Hong starts with a multi-disciplinary team report where a group of medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, and trainees at Mass General discuss some of the most difficult cases coming through the hospital. Getting everyone on the same page through a multi-disciplinary approach, Dr. Hong explains, is crucial toward providing a single, holistic view of a patient’s cancer and coming up with a treatment plan that ensures the best chance of success.

“What this leads to is confidence on the part of the patient, knowing that their entire team is on-board with a given treatment plan and that there is a unified opinion,” he says.

Dr. Hong says the multi-disciplinary, patient-centric approach to care is what sets Mass General apart from other cancer centers. Thanks to team collaboration and advances in technology, he says the clinic has been able to cure pancreatic cancers that weren’t even considered curable when he started at Mass General in 2005. Just recently he says he met with a pancreatic cancer trial patient from five years ago who beat her cancer thanks to her treatment at Mass General. He says the knowledge that she is now enjoying a great quality of life free of cancer is one of the best parts of his job.

“The bond that we develop with our patients during this journey, not just through treatment but through the survivorship period, is really the greatest feeling in the world,” he says.

Dr. Hong emphasizes that he’s constantly amazed at how the smart and talented people on the Mass General team come together each day to take on the most difficult cancers. He says the selflessness of his colleagues in letting go of individual goals to take the best possible care of the patient is rare to find, and the most important reason why he believes he works on the best cancer team out there.

“The team approach that we have at Mass General is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my medical training and it’s something that I haven’t seen in any other setting that I’ve been in,” he says. “I think that the most rewarding thing about being in a center like the Mass General Cancer Center is knowing that we’re all in this to take care of patients and we’re all in this to work together as a team to take care of patients in the best possible way that we can.”

To learn more about Dr. Hong and the Mass General Cancer Center’s approach to collaborative care, click here.

To learn more about the Mass General Cancer Center, including how to make an appointment, click here.