Dr. Barbara Parker Embracing the Challenge

“Healing and hope,” says Dr. Barbara Parker, “are always possible.”

With optimism and a deep sense of gratitude, she has begun her tenure as Medical Director of Oncology Services at Moores Cancer Center and UCSD Medical Center.

Moores UCSD Cancer Center and Dr. Barbara A. Parker
The Moores UCSD Cancer Center and Dr. Barbara A. Parker, new Medical Director of Oncology Services.

A longtime UCSD physician, researcher, and administrator, Dr. Parker was pleased to be asked to step into this challenging and influential role. She sees it as an opportunity to work at a new level to provide the best possible medical – and emotional – care for her patients.


“It’s an incredible opportunity and privilege.”


“I feel very blessed,” she says. “The Cancer Center and all of UCSD have a very dedicated staff of nurses, faculty physicians, and researchers.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and privilege to work with all of them to advance new therapies that will improve the medical and the psychological care of our patients.”

From the beginning of her career, her desire has been to provide emotional as well as medical care for her patients.

“For me, taking care of the emotional as well as the medical needs of patients is very profound,” she says, “and the privilege of addressing emotional and medical needs led me to choose a career in internal medicine and medical oncology.”

She received the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation last year. It is an honor granted to doctors who demonstrate extraordinary compassion.

In her new position, she oversees cancer care services for thousands of patients. The Moores UCSD Cancer Center had over 70,000 outpatient visits to its multidisciplinary clinic, infusion center, procedure suite, and radiation oncology facility last year.
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Her chief challenge, she says, is to improve the transition between inpatient and outpatient care. The goal is to provide a continuum of medical and emotional support for each patient.

This means coordinating among everyone involved, including the patients themselves.

To illustrate the breadth of this challenge, she points out how many facilities and departments are involved in a single patient’s care.


The goal is to provide
a continuum of care.


The patient visits the hospital, the outpatient clinics, the infusion center, and the radiation treatment facilities. He or she receives care from specialists in medical oncology, surgery, radiation oncology, and psychosocial services.

All of the specialists must work in concert to make sure that every issue in a patient’s care is tracked and resolved.

In addition, hospital and clinic resources must be managed so that patient care is optimized; staff and facilities are maintained and assigned efficiently. Patients must have urgent care clinic space or inpatient hospital beds available when they are needed.

“The key is communication,” she said.

A vital part of this effort, she says, is making sure that the patients have the information they need so that they know what to expect and whom to call when they need care.


“Our goal is to educate
our patients so that they feel
empowered to make choices.”


“Our patients want to learn about their disease and participate in their care,” she says. “Our goal is to educate them so that they feel empowered to make choices.”

Without the proper education and support from healthcare professionals, she says, medical information can create uncertainty and fear.

Patients receive information from doctors, from other patients, and – increasingly – from the Internet.

“Part of our job is to help them evaluate what is relevant and what is not,” she says.

“We encourage our patients to bring in the materials they are reading, and we try to teach them how to evaluate the information.

The Moores UCSD Cancer Center provides a list of reliable sources of information about cancer:

See “Coping with Cancer – Resources and Education.”

“It’s important to validate their enthusiasm, their concern, their curiosity, and their desire to partner in their care.”

One of her particular interests is in facilitating patients’ access to safe and effective new treatments. She is working toward that goal administratively as well as in her own research.

She pursues several areas of cancer research in collaboration with other researchers at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center.


Facilitating access
to new therapies
is one of her priorities.


Through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), she is involved in a study that looks at the changes observed in breast cancer patients who have been exposed to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) before breast cancer surgery. These agents may have a role in cancer prevention.

She is also teaming with Dr. Sonia Ancoli-Israel and associates to study issues of “chemobrain” and sleep disorders in breast cancer patients. Addressing quality of life issues in all cancer patients is important to overall care.

With Principal Investigator Dr. John P. Pierce, Director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Moores Cancer Center, she is Medical Director of the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study.

That study, with 7-1/2 years of follow-up in more than 3000 women who are survivors of breast cancer, was published last July in JAMA.

The study found that intense dietary modification with fruits and vegetables above the standard five-a-day recommendation did not impact survival.

However, several additional sub-studies are currently examining issues of the relationship of hot flashes to survival, the effect of hormone replacement therapy on the type of breast cancer, and the frequency with which family history changes over time.

Dr. Parker is also UCSD Principal Investigator of Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB), a large clinical trials cooperative group funded by the National Cancer Institute to test new therapies.

She has just been asked to serve on the CALGB Prevention Committee.

In recent years, she has taken on a greater role in administration involving cancer patient care.

After serving on the Board of Governors of the UCSD Medical Group for several years, she recently was elected to serve on their Executive Committee.

As part of this service, she has had the opportunity to bring her expertise and interest in the clinical arena to focus on operational issues for the Medical Group.

When the Medical Director of Oncology Services position became available, she saw the opportunity to apply her skills as a clinician with her interest in operational issues to solve important problems in the delivery of patient care.

Dr. Parker says she had an early passion for mathematics and science. She began her education at a time when “doors were just opening for women in the sciences.”

She majored in applied mathematics in college and then, with the urging of her family, changed to pre-med.


“I’m a clinician at heart.”


“I’ve never looked back,” she said. “I wanted to be a real doctor and take care of the whole patient.”

She received her M.D. degree from Stanford and trained in internal medicine (residency) and hematology/oncology (fellowship) at UCSD.

Then, she spent 7 years on the UCSD faculty before serving as a medical director in drug development with San Diego’s Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

In 1999, she returned to UCSD. “I’m a clinician at heart,” she said.

Since 1999, she has been a Professor of Clinical Medicine in Hematology-Oncology and researcher in the Moores Cancer Center’s Tumor Growth, Invasion & Metastasis Program.

She has been named as one of San Diego’s “Top Doctors by the San Diego County Medical Society.

During medical school, she says, she was inspired by medical oncologists who became role models for her.

Once she came to UCSD, she found more role models and mentors here, Dr. Mark Green and Dr. John Mendelsohn, former Moores UCSD Cancer Center directors.

It was during medical school at Stanford that she met her husband, who is a basic science cancer researcher.

“We call it the marriage of science and medicine,” she smiles.

Her husband is Geoff Wahl, Ph.D., a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research.

He is actively involved in advocacy for scientific research funding and has been invited to serve on the board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

In his basic research in the causes of cancer, Dr. Wahl focuses on genomic instability, therapeutic strategies based upon the p53 tumor suppressor pathway, and the role of stems cells in breast cancer.

Dr. Parker and Dr. Wahl have two children, a daughter who is a freshman at Tufts University and a son who is a senior at Stanford.

“Our children are our two most successful experiments,” she says warmly.

More Information:

Moores UCSD Cancer Center

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