Head and neck surgeon Michael Kupferman, M.D., shares what drives his work to end cancer here and beyond

Michael Kupferman, M.D., first came to MD Anderson in 2004 as a young head and neck surgeon. Today, he continues to perform surgeries, while also helping bring MD Anderson’s expertise to other communities across the country and around the world, as the senior vice president for clinical and academic network development.

We interviewed him recently to find out more: who inspires him, how he deals with stress and what he hopes to accomplish in his current role.

What word best describes you?


What brought you to MD Anderson?

I was recruited by Randy Weber, M.D., as a fellow in Head and Neck Surgery. I met Dr. Weber when he was on staff at Penn (The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine) and I was a third-year medical student. He’s been my mentor and friend since then.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Communicating the achievements of our MD Anderson Cancer Network® domestically and internationally.

What do you want patients to know about the MD Anderson Cancer Network?

The MD Anderson Cancer Network® advances our mission of ending cancer through collaborations with community hospitals and health systems to improve the quality of care nationwide. The network provides members with services ranging from quality assurance and best practice guidelines to full clinical integration.

The network has successfully brought the “magic” and expertise of MD Anderson to other communities, improving the care of patients with cancer across the country. Internationally, our institution has had a remarkable impact on low-resource environments through novel educational, cancer screening and prevention programs.

Where do you see the network in the next five (or 10) years?

I envision a deeper relationship with our collaborating institutions around clinical care, research, quality, population health and cancer prevention. Most importantly, we need to expand our cancer network research footprint to advance the field of cancer care through clinical trials that only we, as an organization, have the nimbleness to undertake.

What’s the most important thing you’d like to accomplish here?

While it is ambitious, my goal is to further develop our cancer network into a sustainable and comprehensive organization, which brings best-in-class cancer care, state-of-the-art clinical trials, and a culture of quality and transparency to collaborating organizations. We have a phenomenal team of physicians, nurse leaders and project managers who serve as ambassadors for MD Anderson nationally and globally.

What’s something you’ve learned from patients?

The resiliency of the human spirit and body. The cancers I treat as a head and neck surgeon rob my patients of their basic senses: the ability to communicate, eat, hear, see and smell. Seeing my patients return to some degree of normalcy after profound cosmetic and functional changes is truly remarkable. The hope that our patients carry with them is inspiring.

Favorite quote:

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

How do you manage stress?

I try to exercise at least an hour each day, and I particularly enjoy swimming. The sensory deprivation and quietude gives me time to decompress and think through the daily challenges.

What inspires you?

I have a small picture in my office of my grandfather standing on the scaffolding of the World Trade Center under construction. He was a sheet-metal worker who came to this country penniless, yet invested in his children’s education and saw them graduate from college and pursue successful careers. I’m reminded daily of his vision and commitment.

What do you most enjoy away from work?

Spending time with my family. My wife and I have three children. We all enjoy the outdoors together as a family and often spend vacations hiking and exploring. This summer, my son and I backpacked in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California.

Favorite sport/sports team:

Any one of my kids’ sport teams. My daughter is the star of her high school basketball team and recently was named to all-district and all-state. For professional sports, I’m a Houston Rockets fan.

Best advice ever received:

Choose your battles wisely.

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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