Center of Excellence in Diversity in Medical Education

Spotlight on Leadership

Iris C. Gibbs, MD.

IRIS C. GIBBS, MD., Associate Professor, Radiation Oncology

The CyberKnife delivers high doses of precisely targeted radiation to destroy tumors or lesions without awkward stereotactic frames. Invented by Stanford neurosurgeon John Adler, MD, and originally designed to treat brain tumors, the CyberKnife’s flexible robotic arm makes it possible to treat areas that can't be treated by other radiosurgery techniques.

Iris C. Gibbs, MD, an associate professor of radiation oncology, is involved in pushing the CyberKnife even further. Her studies are defining how the device can be used more effectively in both adults and children as she tests its ability to treat tumors of the spine. She serves as co-director of a team that is exploring this treatment in the lungs, pancreas, liver and prostate.

“My clinical research is expanding and introducing new technology, and enhancing the program’s strength,” says Gibbs. “In the end, though, it’s all about helping people, and I pride myself in giving excellent clinical care.”

Gibbs found her specialty in a roundabout way: interested in math and science in high school, she was one of the first in her family to attend a major university and majored in chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. Medicine was not in the picture. But a summer fellowship studying artificial enzymes in a lab at Columbia University made her think about ways she could be working more directly with patients.

“I didn’t know the term at the time, but I was looking for something that was more clinically relevant,” she says. ”I realized that in academic medicine, it didn’t have to be an either-or proposition—I could use my scientific strengths to help people get better.”

Gibbs was admitted to Stanford sight unseen. However, upon her first visit she had a gut reaction that it “felt like the right place.” As a medical student she worked behind the scenes in radiation oncology studying clinical assays, spending as much time in the lab as she did in classes. After joining the Stanford faculty, Gibbs recognized that she had a knack for coordinating teams, as the CyberKnife program involves working with neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, anesthesiologists and other specialists.

“I consider myself a facilitator, so that everyone has a chance to contribute,” says Gibbs, who is also her department’s director of education. “I try to lead by example and build consensus, so that people feel supported and valued. My team knows I will go to bat for them. One of my best compliments was when someone told me, ‘You make me a better nurse.’”

Gibbs considers herself fortunate that people have stepped in to encourage her throughout her career and now hopes to do the same for others.

“I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “I’ve been lucky—or maybe oblivious—to hindrances related to my race and gender, though I do know that that is a real issue for many. I hope I can help others be inspired to be the best human being they can be.”

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