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Beaumont Oncologist Honored for Contributions to Community Care

May 07, 2019

A lot can change in 40 years. If you ask Dr. Robert Birdwell of Texas Oncology–Beaumont, he’ll tell you that’s a good thing.

As Beaumont’s first trained oncologist, Birdwell has seen – and had his hand in – incredible advancements in cancer care in the region. Today, he is a respected and beloved medical oncologist and hematologist among his patients and peers.

Birdwell, who serves as co-director of the Breast Cancer Navigation Program at St. Elizabeth hospital, was recently honored for his contributions and 40 years of commitment to patient care at the Christus Southeast Texas Foundation’s 39th Annual Gala.

“When you’re talking about 40 years, this is a completely different world now than it was in 1979. It’s hard to imagine, but there were no cell phones, no personal computers, no electronic health records,” says Birdwell as he sets the tone for how much has changed over the years.

“If I was on call during the weekend, I carried a beeper. If that beeper went off and I wasn’t at the hospital or at home, I had to stop and find a pay phone to call in to gather information about the situation.”

After medical school and completing his fellowships, Birdwell could have gone anywhere to practice clinical oncology, which was considered a new and groundbreaking area of medicine at the time. Instead, he saw a need in his hometown of Beaumont and went home to serve his community.

He established his practice in 1979 – the first in Beaumont – and in 1985 helped to create the first radiation oncology facility in the region. For the first 10 years of the practice, Birdwell says times were tough due to a lull in medical advancements.

In 1995, Birdwell’s practice joined Texas Oncology, which he says provided a tremendous amount of support and resources for training nurses, creating clinical practice pathways, and quality assurance. For example, Texas Oncology brought the first PET scan to the area.

As the years passed, medical advancements began to grow exponentially, Birdwell says, crediting Texas Oncology for playing a vital role in ensuring patients in Beaumont and surrounding areas had access to these new therapies and clinical trials.

The advances in medicine have been tremendous in terms of how we can treat patients. Genomic testing, immunotherapies, and targeted drugs have significantly improved the treatment options for patients. Therapies are far less toxic and infinitely more effective.”

Reflecting on his 40-year career, Birdwell says there is one important thing that stayed the same: “Despite the advancements in technology, what I do every day – which is walk into an exam room, look at my patients face-to-face, and do everything I can to serve them and treat their illness – that hasn’t changed.”

In addition to being honored at the gala, Dr. Birdwell’s many contributions were highlighted in an article in the Beaumont Enterprise.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.