Why Create The Breast Cancer School for Patients?
Over the years, family and friends have called me for advice about their breast care. In these discussions, they found themselves incredibly empowered when discovering all the questions they could ask their treatment team. This is why we created the Breast Cancer School for Patients. Currently, the medical profession does not actually “teach” patients how to obtain cutting-edge care in their communities. I’ve found this to be a missing link in our collective efforts as physicians in the United States.
In response, I believe information on breast cancer should be readily available online, well organized, as well as in video format to facilitate retention.
Dr. Williams is a breast cancer surgeon and patient education advocate. He founded and is medical director of the Breast Cancer School for Patients, an online video-based cancer education platform. His policy interests focus on improving cancer outcomes and disparities by promoting a transparent and patient-focused national healthcare system. He was appointed by the President of the United States to serve as Chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel in 2019 and served as “Advisor to the President on the National Cancer Program” until 2023.
He received an undergraduate degree in psychology with distinction from Duke University and his medical degree from UNC School of Medicine. Dr. Williams then completed his surgery residency at Baylor College of Medicine with Dr. Michael E. DeBakey. He is a clinical faculty member at the Institute for Biohealth Innovation at George Mason University and founded the UVA Community Health Breast Center – Haymarket, Virginia in 2009. Dr. Williams practices breast surgery in Northern Virginia.
What is a “Team Approach” to Breast Cancer?
A large part of my general surgery training at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas was working with the experts in cancer treatment at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC). Also located in the Texas Medical Center, MDACC is the largest dedicated cancer hospital in the United States. My general surgery rotations there exposed me to the “team approach” to breast cancer. The cutting-edge care a multidisciplinary team can offer patients is why I founded the Novant Health UVA Health System Breast Center in Haymarket, Virginia. It is personally rewarding that those with breast cancer in my community will now benefit from this team approach for generations to come.
Do You Come From a Family of Physicians?
Growing up, I knew that I would likely become a doctor. My grandfather, L. Polk Williams, Sr. MD, brought modern medicine to the small town of Edenton, North Carolina in the early 1920s. He was the first formally trained family physician in the region and cared for all medical problems. During the Great Depression, grateful patients would leave chickens and livestock at his back door in exchange for the house calls and lifesaving care he provided.
My father, L. Polk Williams, Jr. MD, followed his father into medicine, also attending Wake Forest University and Bowman Gray School of Medicine, just like my grandfather. He returned to his hometown of Edenton after training in general surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and brought Dr. Michael Debakey’s world-class surgical care with him. I was born in Edenton and grew up in Elizabeth City, just a short drive from there.
Why is Being a Breast Cancer Surgeon Rewarding?
I find I am interconnected in so many ways to my patients. They call me with questions, I talk with them at the grocery store, and when I am on vacation with my family. Many become friends. I love being there as a physician and friend when they are in need. These personal relationships are the ultimate reward for being a physician. What drives me today is doing everything in my power to obtain the best care possible for my own patients. I use every ounce of thought and energy teaching them and guiding them through every step of their journey.
Where Did You Attend School and Train to Be a Surgeon?
I entered Duke University as a freshman knowing that becoming a doctor was my goal. I became fascinated by the complexities of the brain and soon found myself engaged in neurology research at Duke University School of Medicine while an undergraduate. I graduated with distinction in psychology, and then attended the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and decided to pursue further training in surgery.
Like my father, I trained in general surgery at Baylor College of Medicine with Dr. Debakey. Dr. Debakey was the world’s greatest cardiovascular surgeon of the 20th century and a leader in promoting advances in medicine and in health. Professionally, I am most proud to have applied to breast cancer care the same pursuit of excellence that I learned from Dr. Debakey and his associates at Baylor in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Michael E. Debakey and Dr. Williams performing an aortic reconstruction at Ben Taub General Hospital, Houston, TX, 1997. (Courtesy of Baylor College of Medicine)
More about Dr. John P. Williams
Dr. Williams is a breast cancer surgeon in Virginia. He was the founding physician of the UVA Health Community Breast Center which serves the communities of Manassas, Gainesville and Haymarket, Virginia. More information can be found at www.drjohnwilliams.com. Download Dr. Williams’ CV (here).
This is the first “School for Breast Cancer Patients”
The Breast Cancer School for Patients teaches you to be an expert and your own best advocate. Our “Patient-Driven Quality” movement is about empowering you to be at the center of all discussions and treatment decisions. Get informed before speaking with your doctors.
Register for our newsletter & “Cutting Edge” questions
Sign-up for our “Breast Health Updates & Latest Videos“ (here). Once registered, we’ll immediately email you our complete list of “Cutting Edge” questions to engage your breast surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. We help you get quality breast cancer care in your community.