Dr. Philip Salem, Professor of Cancer Medicine and Research, Director of Cancer Research at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital was awarded the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement and Outstanding Community Service Award on Saturday, March 31,2012. The award was presented to him at a gala dinner hosted by the Rene Moawad Foundation held at the Omni Hotel in Houston. The Rene Moawad Foundation is a non-political and non-profit organization with the objective of serving the needy in Lebanon. On this occasion, the Ambassador of Lebanon, Antoine Chedid, had sent this message:
On this memorable event, I am pleased to join all members of our community and friends in expressing my warmest congratulations to Dr. Philip A. Salem who will receive the RMF Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. As a remarkable physician, educator, scientist and international statesmen in cancer medicine, Dr. Salem has excelled in his profession through his determination and hard work and has received numerous awards for his exceptional humanitarian efforts and outstanding contributions to Medicine, Science, Arabic Literature and Philosophy.
Thereafter, the Master of Ceremonies, David Ward, read a statement written by Selma and Lois DeBakey, the sisters of Dr. Michael DeBakey. The statement spoke of the great and unique relationship that bonded their brother, Dr. Michael DeBakey, to Dr. Philip Salem. Both shared the legacy of Lebanese heritage and both shared the legacy of academic excellence.
After reading the statement by the DeBakey’s, David Fine, President and Chief Executive of St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System introduced Dr. Salem, and he spoke about Dr. Salem, the researcher, the physician and the intellectual. Dr. Salem had resigned in September, 2012 as Director of Cancer Research after he served in that capacity for 20 years, but in his speech David Fine announced the decision by the board to grant Philip Salem Director Emeritus of Cancer Research at St. Luke’s Hospital. In addition to the major achievements Dr. Salem made in research, David Fine emphasized the humanitarian approach of Dr. Salem to medicine, and the semi-divine relationship he has with his patients. Dr. Fine has travelled extensively with Dr. Salem abroad and he was most impressed by the love his patients have for him. During David Fine’s speech, the speech was interrupted to insert a video by Dr. Salem:
I’m Dr. Philip Salem and I am the President of Salem Oncology Centre. I established this centre in September, 1991 when I was Professor of Medicine and Cancer Research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center here in Houston. I felt then the need for a private center of excellence and I also felt very strongly that scientific knowledge alone in cancer treatment is not enough. It takes a lot more than knowledge to cure the patient. I am a believer in the power of love and compassion. My motto has always been and will ever remain “The doctor who does not love his patient, cannot cure him”. I am also a believer in the power of courage and perseverance. The road to the cure in cancer is long and brutal. Should the doctor lose courage, the patient will certainly fall. In addition and above all I’m a believer in the power of hope. To me treating cancer is not a job. It is a calling. It is a privilege. Every morning when I open my eyes, I thank the Lord for this privilege. I also thank him for the work I do. I cannot possibly think of a work which could be greater or more noble than the work I do here every day.
When David Fine completed his introduction, Dr. Salem was invited to the podium. Dr. Salem emphasized that this is a moment of thankfulness, gratefulness and humility. He thanked all the people who made the gala a great event; in particular he thanked his assistant Samia Yazbeck. He also thanked his staff at the Cancer Research Program, in particular Elizabeth Walker. Dr. Salem then spoke of his gratefulness and thankfulness to America. He said that when he came to America 25 years ago, he felt that ¾ of him had died and was buried in Lebanon. He felt that he was coming to America with the residual ¼ only to ensure security and safety of his family. Since then, America had embraced him and was extremely generous to him. He said “America will never find me ungrateful or unthankful”. He then spoke about two major concepts that probably constitute some of his major visions towards medicine. He said “In my 47 years as a doctor, I have learned that the sick is not an object, he is not a client, nor a health consumer. He is a human who has family and friends. He is a patient, not a disease”. Then he spoke about the significance of the combination of love and knowledge. He said “Knowledge may be enough in physics, chemistry, and technology, but it is never enough in medicine. The patient wants more than knowledge; he wants love, warmth, compassion and care. He needs a lot of time to speak to his doctor”. Dr. Salem spoke about his motto “In cancer medicine, a doctor who does not love his patient cannot cure him”. He concluded by saying “While the combination of love and knowledge is a great power, the combination of gratefulness and humility is a treasure. It is a human endowment. He said “In such a moment one should remember to be humble. He should remember how little he knows compared to what he does not know. He should remember that his achievements are small compared to others. He should remember the many failures he has been through”. He said “Humility is a prerequisite to learning and is a prerequisite to giving the patient the best treatment”. At the end Dr. Salem thanked each and every one who attended the gala, but in particular he thanked his students and colleagues who had come from all over America to attend this gala. He gave special thanks to those who came from abroad. Dr. Salem was given a standing ovation which was then followed by a fashion show.