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Dr. Edward Arenson: “Choose your educational institutions on the basis of your personal best fit, not prestige”

Choose your educational institutions on the basis of your personal best fit, not prestige. I went to Cornell University for my undergraduate education as both of my parents had done. I would have been better off at a small college where I might have felt more relevant. As part of my series about healthcare leaders, […]

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Choose your educational institutions on the basis of your personal best fit, not prestige. I went to Cornell University for my undergraduate education as both of my parents had done. I would have been better off at a small college where I might have felt more relevant.


As part of my series about healthcare leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing author and retired cancer doctor, Edward Arenson MD CWSP.

Dr. Edward Arenson attended Drexel University Medical College and trained in pediatrics and pediatric hematology-oncology at the University of Colorado and UCLA. He was a junior faculty member at UCLA in the mid-seventies when the cure of childhood leukemia was verified. He practiced pediatric oncology until 2002 when he made the decision to commit to the treatment of adults with brain cancer which he continued until he retired abruptly in March of 2020 while writing his memoir, TO BE OF USE, Five Decades as a Cancer Doctor Including the Story of the Conquest of Childhood Leukemia.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?

I was often ill as a child and spent a lot of time with doctors. I had a difficult family life with a great deal of conflict and very little nurturing. These two issues, I believe, had a major impact on my decision to become a medical doctor and on the way I ultimately practiced medicine.

Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

While working in the bone marrow transplant program at UCLA, we discovered that when we used an identical twin as the bone marrow donor, the leukemia always came back, whereas when we used a matched sibling donor, we saw cures. This clearly indicated an immunological basis for the eradication of the leukemia.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I did an elective in pediatric cardiology. My mentor asked me to examine the heart of a child. I couldn’t hear the heart with my stethoscope because the child’s heart was on the wrong side, but the mentor didn’t warn me. He got a good laugh out of it. It wasn’t as funny to me, but a little humility can be good.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I am retired, but during the last few years of my career, I became a provider of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and proved that this treatment could reverse radiation damage to the brain. If I have the opportunity, I want to study this phenomenon more and determine its applicability to other types of vascular disease of the brain.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My high school Latin teacher told me to learn everything about something and something about everything. I followed her advice and benefitted greatly from it.

Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?

The Cider House Rules by John Irving is the book from which I learned the motto, “to be of use” which is the title of my memoir. I have used this phrase innumerable times to encourage people who are searching for meaning in life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Bringing goodness to the world is how I would define my “success” and no other way. I knew that if I could do the difficult job that I chose, I would be rewarded by knowing that I had made the world better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant to you in your own life?

To be of use is also the answer to this question. I would add: make the most of whatever you have to offer, and you can’t lose. Not everyone is a superstar, but we don’t need very many superstars; we need ordinary people who do what they do well and with pride.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?

Pursue love, work hard, and have the courage to be who you are and say what you mean.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

1. Wait until you know who you are before you commit yourself to another. Not doing this cost me two divorces.

2. Listen to people and learn from them; it’s not all about yourself. It took me many years to figure this out, and it is still an effort, but it pays off.

3. If you choose to be a doctor, don’t expect to be wealthy and don’t compromise yourself for money. I never did have wealth as a goal for my career, but many do. I, on the other hand, had to make decisions to be able to raise a family that I might not have made otherwise.

4. Do not try to be what you are not, even if it limits your “success”. It took me a few years to admit to myself that I was not cut out for academia and should commit to the care of patients.

5. Choose your educational institutions on the basis of your personal best fit, not prestige. I went to Cornell University for my undergraduate education as both of my parents had done. I would have been better off at a small college where I might have felt more relevant.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The biggest medical problem facing the world today, aside from pandemics, is adult-onset or type II diabetes. The remedy is simple, but elusive: we consume too much sugar, don’t get enough exercise, and there are way too many people who are obese. Anyone who can successfully impact this situation will change the world and will be a great hero.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Easy question. The most powerful and influential person in the world is the President of the United States, and Joe Biden is the kind of person who listens. I would be thrilled to have his ear for a meal.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Xlibris will have a website for TO BE OF USE, but, for now, go to: tobeofuse.net. The book is also posted on Twitter, Face Book, and Instagram.

Thank you so much for these wonderful insights!

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