From Liz Engel

March 19, 2021

Written by Liz Engel and photographed by Amy Elisabeth Spasoff for the Cincinnati Business Courier.

When Dr. David Waterhouse first arrived in Cincinnati in 1994 as a medical oncologist and hematologist at OHC, not a lot of cancer research was happening in the community. “A precious little,” in fact, as he recalls. That has drastically changed over the last 27 years.

Waterhouse, and OHC, formerly Oncology Hematology Care, one of the region’s largest independent, physician-led practices, today sits at the forefront of cancer research and care. OHC, was among the few oncology groups in the U.S. to onboard chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or Car-T, for adults with aggressive blood cancers. It led the way on immunotherapies, a treatment type that uses the body’s own immune system to fight different diseases like lung cancer. OHC’s impact is felt not only nationally, but globally. Waterhouse jokes they’re no longer designated to the kiddie table at Thanksgiving.

It’s never been about recognition, he’s quick to add. It’s about the patient. In fact, it’s one of the first principles he learned when he originally arrived in the Queen City – and one he’s carried with him ever since.

OHC seems to have thrived as an independent practice. Why is that important and what benefit does it offer patients?

I’m a big fan of being independent, and I think a lot of people know that about me. I’m not tied by any restrictive covenants. If another organization does it better, or if we can partner with someone else in terms of research, it’s about putting the patient at the center, which is where they should be. The economics are challenging, and national policies have driven doctors into hospitals. It’s not been easy to remain independent. In fact, it’s been difficult. But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it was the best thing for our patients. And who knows? Maybe one day that will change.

What’s something you’re most proud of when it comes to your practice and OHC?

I think we’re one of the best- kept secrets in Cincinnati. We have, at any one time, probably 60 or more clinical trials, and that’s exclusive of the hematologic (blood cancer or blood disorder) trials. We’re innovative. A lot of people don’t realize that Cincinnati – and OHC – was at the absolute epicenter of the launch of immunotherapies and now it’s very mainstream. Some of the very first patients ever treated with immunotherapies in lung cancer, for example, were from here.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career? Professionally or personally?

The founder of our group, Dick Levy, many, many years ago when I was first recruited here, said something very simple: ‘You put the patient first, the organization second, and the last thing you worry about is yourself.’ I never thought to violate that principle. The second is, ‘If you have to say yes, do it enthusiastically.’ It’s hard advice. But it has been very valuable to me from a career perspective.

How has OHC navigated the Covid-19 pandemic? What kind of adjustments have you made?

No one saw Covid coming, but we adapted. A lot of the things people said we couldn’t do – telehealth and remote monitoring and the decentralization of clinical trials – we demonstrated that, during a pandemic, not only could we do it, but we could excel at it. It’s going to be hard to walk back some of those innovations.

How do you navigate the day-in and day-out of your job? I can imagine it’s extremely mentally taxing.

You do get that a lot. People always ask, ‘What do you do for a living?’ You almost hate saying, ‘I’m a cancer doctor,’ because there’s always one of two response: ‘Oh, that must be hard,’ or, ‘Thank God there’s people like you.’ I sort of cringe because I’m the luckiest person in the world. I get to share very intimate moments with people every single day. There’s not a day where I don’t feel like I’ve done something very positive for someone.

There are some incredible lows. But you also get tremendous highs, and those highs are just incredible. You feed off them. I feel very privileged to do what I do.

Give me an example of one of those highs.

We have a patient who’s very famous in our group, and he’s now seven years out. He brings us a cake every year to celebrate. He says he’s got a lot more cakes planned. Those are the people you live for. Even the ones you can’t fix, you can help make their journey a little bit easier.

Bio

Dr. David Waterhouse

Title: Medical oncologist and hematologist, OHC

Education: Bachelor’s degree, biology, College of the Holy Cross; master’s degree, public health, University of Michigan; medical degree, University of Massachusetts

Experience: 27 years at OHC

Age: 62

Resides: Indian Hill

Family: Wife, Jane; four children

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