Rush Pioneer Praises New Cancer Center

When Janet Wolter, MD, began practicing medicine at Rush 46 years ago, the staff consisted of only three doctors and one nurse. Now, the Rush University Cancer Center’s just-opened outpatient cancer center has a team of more than 100 doctors, nurses and other caregivers providing cancer care in one centralized location. Rush’s Jody Lempa talked about the new cancer center with Wolter, who retired as Brian Piccolo Chair of Cancer Research in 2009.

Q:  How do you think the new outpatient cancer center will affect care for patients?

A: The center is obviously a very beautiful environment. This alone will change everyone’s attitude dramatically. In the really old days, we each had an office that was 10 feet by 10 feet. We mixed our own drugs and medicine in the hallways, administered the chemotherapy ourselves and provided every aspect of care to the patients. It is evident that a lot has changed in 40 years.

Q: There’s a conference room named after you in the cancer center. How do you feel about that honor?

A: Well, it means a lot. The conference room is a wonderful place with all of the bells and whistles for looking at images and giving lectures. Aesthetically, it is very bright and inviting, which will hopefully reflect on everyone’s moods. I wanted a place that would provide a suitable location for Grand Rounds, and this state-of-the-art conference room is equipped to provide for greater learning opportunities.

Q: What are you most excited about for the new cancer center?

A: I am most excited about the new conference center. Now we have first-rate facilities to work in. … The patient rooms are going to be comfortable for both patients and caregivers. The waiting room was designed to be uplifting and functional -– there are personal computers so patients can look up information about medication or a specific disease as they wait. And the flow of the center allows patients to check in, get their vitals taken while waiting, and then be seen by their doctor sooner. This is a dramatic process improvement that will hopefully make the patients’ treatment less stressful as well.

Q: How do you think the new technology and accommodations will change the way medicine is practiced?

A: While the amenities are a nice bonus, they will not change how medicine is practiced -– that has undoubtedly come through research and hard work. Rush is lucky to have this space and I must say we are grateful to our donors and patients who provided the funds for this area that is so well thought-out and designed, it is like nothing we have ever had before.

Lifetime of Healing: Janet Wolter, MD, Retires

By Kevin McKeough

When Janet Wolter, MD, first began practicing medicine, the polio vaccine hadn’t yet been discovered, and cancer was so feared that it wasn’t discussed openly.

By the time she retired as Brian Piccolo Chair of Cancer Research and professor of internal medicine at Rush at the end of November 2009, Wolter had provided thousands of cancer patients with hope and made important contributions to the advances that have transformed cancer care and outcomes.

To honor Wolter, Rush is hosting a seminar of former residents and fellows on Feb. 27 and will name a new teaching area after her. The Janet Wolter, MD, Clinical and Educational Conference Room will provide a comfortable, high-tech home for the education of residents and fellows and for collaboration among clinicians of various specialties. The room will be built as part of the renovation of the 10th floor of the Professional Building later this year to house Rush’s new outpatient cancer center. The educational focus of these tributes reflects Wolter’s enduring influence on generations of physicians.

“She served as a role model, for me and many other oncologists who trained at Rush; for our internal medicine residents and students; and especially for many female physicians,” says Philip Bonomi, MD, Alice Pirie Wirtz professor of medical oncology and director of hematology-oncology at Rush, who trained with Wolter as an oncology fellow. “She’s a very fastidious physician who has taken excellent care of patients. There’s no one better,” Bonomi continues. “On Monday mornings, the oncology team goes through new cases, and to this day her remarks are incredibly insightful and pertinent, not only in breast cancer but other cases.”

Seventh Grade Plans

A native of River Forest, Wolter declared her intention to be a doctor in a seventh grade essay. In the late 1940s, she first came to what would become Rush during a clerkship at Presbyterian Hospital while attending the University of Illinois College of Medicine. (Presbyterian eventually merged with both St. Luke’s Hospital and Rush Medical College to form what now is Rush University Medical Center.) World War II had just ended when she was accepted into medical school.

Janet Wolter, MD, in 1954, when she was chief resident at the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital.

Janet Wolter, MD, in 1954, when she was chief resident at the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital.

“A lot of the guys weren’t out of the service yet,” Wolter recalls. “In my class of 165, 21 were women, but the next year when everybody came back from the war, it went down to four women and 161 men.”

After receiving her medical degree in 1950, Wolter completed training at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Duke University Hospital, the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital before joining the U of I faculty. There, she treated polio patients, who were confined in iron lungs that enabled them to breathe.

“All the equipment back then was big and rigid and heavy,” Wolter remembers. “We had no computers. Electrocardiograms (EKGs) were done on photographic paper, and every floor in a hospital had a darkroom where you’d develop the EKG .”

The advent of the polio vaccine in the mid-’50s eventually led to the end of her program, and Wolter joined the Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital faculty in 1963 to collaborate with pioneering physician Samuel G. Taylor III, MD , in his work treating cancer patients with hormones and chemotherapy. “It wasn’t even called oncology. There wasn’t even a name for it then,” she remembers. “There really wasn’t anything that could be called cancer care. If the surgeon couldn’t remove the tumor, that was it.” Continue reading