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Stanford Oral History Collections

Jacobs, Charlotte D.
Jacobs, Charlotte D.
Jacobs, Charlotte D. and Genovese, Jacqueline
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
Charlotte Jacobs begins her interviews by discussing her happy childhood in a large family in Tennessee, and the pressure she felt being a young girl in the 1950s with dreams of being a doctor. She goes on to detail the influence of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine trials, of which she was a part, and several other important milestones that empowered her to follow her dreams into medicine. She describes her journey from pre-med undergrad at the University of Rochester to post-doctoral fellow in oncology at Stanford University, under the supervision of Saul Rosenberg. She credits much of her success to this esteemed oncologist, under whom she could achieve her goal of succeeding in clinical research and patient care. Jacobs paints a vivid picture of her career from start to finish. She broke the mold as an acting assistant professor at Stanford, teaching second year medical students and designing and leading the new Oncology Day Care Center. She also led pioneering work into the “organ preservation approach” with mentors and colleagues Willard Fee and Dan Goffinet, changing forever the paradigm of head and neck cancer. In the meantime, she achieved a true balance between a fulfilling family life and a high-flying medical career. Jacobs continues to detail the trajectory of her career, including her rise from acting assistant professor to senior associate dean. Despite it taking Jacobs almost two decades to reach tenure, she was named the “Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson Professor of Medicine,” and was given total academic freedom to continue accomplishing her professional goals. Jacobs then discusses her innovative teaching at the university, the awards she received, and the students whom she inspired and who inspired her. She tells at length of her rewarding role in revamping the education of Stanford’s medical students as Senior Associate Dean of Education and Student Affairs, which began a wonderful part of her career working with David Korn and Robert Cutler, as well as continuing her work as a general oncologist. Following this, she led the creation of a new multidisciplinary cancer center at Stanford. Jacobs then became the director of the Clinical Cancer Program for UCSF Stanford Health Care as part of the two universities’ merging efforts. Jacobs depicts how this merger caused much friction as well as success. Jacobs then tells of opening the clinical cancer center after which she returned to clinical research and patient care. She discusses her building of the sarcoma and lung cancer programs, mentoring young faculty and women professionals, and her choice to take early retirement so she could divide her time between treating veterans with cancer and writing. Jacobs then details finding the time to finish her book on Henry Kaplan, a biography–the genre she most loved reading as a child–that she had spent years on already. She goes into great detail about learning the craft and how writing her first and second books (a biography of Jonas Salk) has helped her as a doctor and medical professional. She also discusses the importance of the theatre, particularly musical theatre, in her life, both as a young woman and throughout her time as a mother, doctor, and professor. She credits these passions with helping her profoundly as a physician, allowing her to better understand the needs and anxieties of patients, and to better deal with the complexities of being a doctor. Jacobs, throughout the interviews, draws on the importance of patients in her life and work, and she describes those who have inspired her and fascinated her, and imagines what her memoir might look like if she ever completes it. She outlines her keys to success in the scientific sphere, and specifically the skills and attributes she believes make a wonderful, caring doctor. She credits her work-life balance and her constant wish to care for those in need as her main focuses throughout her stellar career. Finally, Jacobs considers what could be seen as her legacy: her pioneering work in the field of head and neck cancer, the clinical cancer center at Stanford, her pride in her students at the university and those whom she taught and for whom she became a role model, and mostly, the patients whom she cured or helped to face the prospect of death. She explains that patients are what drove her career from the very beginning, and still do, and that she hopes she has made life better for all of them.
Charlotte D. Jacobs, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, woman physician, oncology, clinical research, National Institutes of Health, and Stanford Medical School
February 23, 2015 - February 25, 2015
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012
Pioneering Women