Getting to know Carin Hagberg, M.D.

The career of Carin Hagberg, M.D., has come full circle. She began her career at MD Anderson as a research assistant in the clinical immunology laboratory of Evan Hersch, M.D., and under the supervision of James Reuben, Ph.D., before receiving her medical degree from McGovern Medical School. In 2016, she returned to MD Anderson as division head of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine. And in August 2018, the nationally and internationally respected researcher assumed her newest role as chief academic officer.

In this role, Hagberg is advancing our clinical research efforts to support MD Anderson in maintaining its top-tier research status by supporting clinical research and scholarship; developing and promoting education; and providing excellence in academics throughout MD Anderson through leadership, best practices and innovation.

We recently spoke with Hagberg to learn more about her. Here’s what she had to say.

What word best describes you?

Determined. My husband would say unstoppable.

Did you always want to be a doctor?

No. As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian. 

When I was 16, my mother suffered a devastating stroke, and I decided I wanted to care for people. At the time, I thought I would pursue pediatric nursing. During my sophomore year in college, a conversation with my brother changed the course of my life. He helped me realize I didn’t have to choose a traditional female career if I didn’t want to, and it was then I decided to become a doctor.

What brought you to Houston?

I was on my own to pay for medical school after earning my undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.

I came to Texas for the affordable schooling and cost of living. I actually worked at MD Anderson prior to starting medical school at UT Health McGovern Medical School. I was a research assistant in a clinical immunology laboratory working under Evan Hersch, M.D., and James Reuben, Ph.D. 

What made you choose to be an anesthesiologist?

Dr. Betty Stephenson, a Baylor anesthesiologist and leader in the field, was interviewing me for a scholarship during medical school. She said she would only award me the scholarship if I promised I would perform a rotation in anesthesiology.

That rotation was the first of many experiences that drew me into this profession where we can positively influence surgical outcomes for patients.

Why did you return to MD Anderson after 24 years at UT Health?

Joining MD Anderson in 2016 was an opportunity to come full circle in my career. 

I have dedicated my career to difficult airway management, and some of the most challenging cases can be found here, so I feel I can make a true difference in our patients’ lives. From a leadership perspective, my roles as division head and chief academic officer fulfill my passion for mentoring and allow me to spearhead great teams working toward higher achievement in patient outcomes, more discoveries and training of future generations.

What are your initial priorities as chief academic officer?

The chief academic officer role provides oversight and integration of three important areas: the academic life of faculty, the initiation and regulation of the highest quality clinical research, and the growth and development of women and minority inclusion for faculty. My first priorities are to listen and learn about these areas and to continue to move forward in alignment with institutional strategies and priorities. Many of our current efforts center on achieving efficiencies in areas such as clinical trial activation and amendment processes, faculty offer and retention letter generation, faculty credentialing, and budgeting processes in Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion. One of our first big initiatives involves the review of our faculty career tracks and criteria for faculty promotion. 

What have you learned about yourself through various personality assessments?

My dominant true color is green: I’m an analyzer. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is ENTJ (Extroverted, Intuition, Thinking, Judging). I like to look at a situation from all angles before making a decision. I value competence in myself and others. I like rules to make sense. I like challenge, autonomy, truth and opportunities to ask questions.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I love indoor cycling (spinning). I also enjoy hiking and skiing with my family and reading. 

Do you have a favorite book, and what are you currently reading? 

“The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz is one of my favorites. It’s a very quick read with four key takeaways: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best. Currently I’m reading “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle and “Playing to Win” by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin.

What’s on your playlist?

These days I’m into pop and R&B music, but in my younger days I liked reggae and rock. My first concert was Aerosmith.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you want to do?

I can’t think of a better profession than medicine. I love what I do, being an anesthesiologist and a physician leader. But if not this, I would consider full-time teaching or consulting. Additionally, I would probably be exercising more, spending more time with family and friends, traveling for leisure, and performing missionary work. I’m sure I’d stay busy.

A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s quarterly publication for employees, volunteers, retirees and their families.

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