New UCHealth oncologist Mark Hancock, MD, has never met a challenge that he didn’t embrace with gusto. From volunteering for Doctors Without Borders in Malawi, Africa before starting his fellowship to moving his wife and four daughters to a suburb outside of Paris, France to work on a logistics business venture with his father-in-law after more than a decade practicing medicine, it seems Hancock always opts for the road less traveled.
But it’s more than simply meeting a challenge that motivates Hancock. He likes to be where the action is. That’s why he first chose to go into oncology.
“When I got into the later phases of my internal medicine training, I was doing research with one of the attendings and it became clear that a lot of things were about to change in the treatment of oncology and it looked really cool. I wanted to be a part of that,” recalled Hancock.
Chance meeting, new challenge
Hancock’s journey to UCHealth is one that he came across recently by serendipity. He had given his notice as the medical director at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where he commuted to from Denver for eight years. He was deciding between a job in Austin, Texas and one in Knoxville, Tenn., when he ran into Tom Purcell, MD, executive medical director of cancer services for University of Colorado Hospital and associate director for clinical services for the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
Purcell, who was also recently named chief medical officer of the new, soon-to-be-built UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital, chatted about career options with Hancock, who mentioned that he’d prefer to stay in Denver. Purcell told him he could help him out with that. And he did.
Purcell had met Hancock in 2012 during the latter’s time as director of the cancer center at St. Mary’s Hospital. “I was impressed with his ability to deliver high-quality cancer care in the community setting,” said Purcell. “I thought he would be a great fit for our comprehensive care model. I’m excited that he has chosen to practice oncology in one of our affiliated community sites.”
Texas to Africa
Born in Lubbock, Texas, Hancock says he wanted to go into medicine from a young age. He was influenced in part by his pediatrician as well as the television show “M*A*S*H.” But the person who inspired Hancock the most was his grandfather, a self-made man who grew up during the Great Depression and ended up building a large manufacturing company based on the technology patents he developed as a dry land farmer in West Texas.
“He really made a lot of his life and helped a lot of people on the way. He was always very focused on making the most of a situation and doing the right thing. He was quite a man,” said Hancock.
After Hancock’s last year of residency at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, he was set to start his fellowship, but decided to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders after learning about it from a former patient.
Despite scant experience, he became the medical director for two refugee camps that served about 80,000 refugees from Mozambique in the Chikwawa district of Malawi in southeast Africa. Since most of the volunteers from Doctors Without Borders (officially known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) spoke French, Hancock moved to France for six months prior to his trip to Malawi in order to better communicate with the other MSF volunteers.
“All the meetings were in French and I wanted to be part of it,” Hancock explained.
In Malawi he treated mostly children, for things like worms, infections, cholera, leprosy and severe malnutrition. “It gave me a good perspective on what’s important about life and health,” Hancock said of his experience.
He then completed his fellowship and did a brief stint in Montana before landing at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Denver, where he worked for three years before taking on yet another challenge.
“One of the other doctors and I, we were the younger guys, and we felt we needed to spread our wings so we went out and started our own practice,” said Hancock.
He and the other “younger guy” managed Mile High Oncology for about six years before selling it to Centura. During a three-year term with Centura to help transition the practice, Hancock earned an executive MBA at the University of Denver to become more marketable when he went back out to look for a job.
Instead of heading back into medicine, however, Hancock took advantage of an opportunity to live overseas and put what he learned in his MBA program, as well as his French, to good use. He and his wife and four daughters moved to Courgent, a small rural village an hour west of Paris, to help his father-in-law expand a supply chain logistics business into France and Belgium.
“We thought it would be a great idea to take advantage of this little interlude and take the kids to Europe,” said Hancock. They planned to live there two years but a setback with the company after a year changed their plans and they returned to the U.S.
That led to the opportunity with St. Mary’s that was too good to pass up. It was a “temporary” job that lasted eight years.
Mind over matter
Not all of Hancock’s challenges were ones he chose. Between his first and second year of medical school, Hancock and his dad were sailing a Hobie Cat sailboat into an inlet on Cedar Creek Lake in East Texas when the mast got too close to power lines. “I was holding onto the front forestay, which is the cable that holds up the mast, and just got fried,” Hancock said. He lost his right hand, the dominant one, and now wears a prosthetic.
Undeterred, he said, “I learned to become a lefty. It’s not surprising what you can do when you have to.”
A man who learned to play the guitar as a young man, Hancock has played in a few bands off and on since medical school. One was called the Left-Hand Band (named before he joined) and another was the Rufus Bug Eye Blues Band, based in Grand Junction. Hancock said he’d eventually like to form a band at UCHealth.
“It’s a terrific stress reliever,” he said. “It’s great when I can just disappear away with my guitar and play for hours.”
As far as his position at the new UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital, he’s not sure of all the details or even his title yet, but he’s looking forward to seeing how it all evolves.
“I love the challenge. I like to build up programs and practices. That’s what I did in Grand Junction and what I did at Mile High Oncology. It’s always the fun part.”