From the Military to Improving the Future of Cancer Care

November 7, 2019

There was a time when Bradley McGregor, MD, had what many would consider an unusual morning routine for an oncologist. Getting ready for work included putting on nearly 60 pounds of body armor, donning a tactical helmet, and grabbing his assault rifle before heading out the door. His commute took him from an American compound, across a helipad, and into a secure Afghan compound in Kabul, Afghanistan.

For nearly six months, the Lieutenant Colonel completed this loop as part of his 2013 deployment to Afghanistan as a member of the United States Air Force. 

During his deployment, McGregor served as the Deputy Commander for the NATO-led Medical Training Advisory Group, where he mentored Afghan physicians. From discussing emergency room tactics and helping establish hospital training programs, to offering tips on how to properly park ambulances so they can be quickly and effectively deployed, McGregor worked to help make top-down improvements to the country’s entire medical system.

“I believe the experience made me an excellent clinician,” McGregor says. “It helped me become quick at adapting and keep calm in any situation.”

Bradley McGregor, MD.

A military background

The son of an Air Force navigator, McGregor grew up in a military family. While he never felt pressure from his father to join the armed forces, McGregor says he was drawn to the Air Force at a young age. When McGregor was just 10 years old, his father, Richard, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a blood cancer in which the bone marrow produces too many immature lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). Richard was ultimately cured of his disease, and in watching his treatment, McGregor was forever changed.  

“After seeing the amazing care my father received from the military, I was influenced in two ways: I knew I wanted to be a physician and I also felt compelled to give back and join the Air Force.”

A career of service

After completing his undergraduate education at Tufts University, McGregor enrolled at Tufts University School of Medicine, securing a scholarship through the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). After post-graduate training in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hematology, McGregor began his service in the Air Force, providing oncologic care to active duty members, their families, and retirees even, working side by side with one of the nurses who had cared for his dad years ago.

Quickly moving up the ranks, McGregor held many positions during his service, which included his 6-month tour in Afghanistan, during which he was awarded the Army Commendation medal for his work. Of the roles he held, one he is particularly proud of is being named the program director for the Transitional Year Program — a one-year internship designed to help military medical interns ensure they complete the proper medical training and certification necessary to practice, as they would often go on to practice independently as flight surgeons providing invaluable care for the flight crews and their family.

In addition to preparing and shaping him as an oncologist, McGregor met his wife, Cherri, during his time in the Air Force, as well as other lifelong friends. He and Cherri now have three children together. 

Advancing cancer treatment

McGregor in Afghanistan.

While McGregor always enjoyed his work, in the summer of 2016, he elected to step away from the military to become the clinical director for the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. For McGregor, his decision to leave the Air Force came from his desire to focus on one cancer and advance its standard of care.

“I was providing excellent care to every patient in the Air Force, there’s no doubt about it — but I didn’t have the time or experience with one disease to know its nuances,” McGregor explains. “I wanted to explore oncology on a larger level and work to improve the future of cancer care.”

Currently, McGregor is actively involved in clinical research in genitourinary (GU) malignancies and serves as the primary investigator for several ongoing trials. While he has been inspired by the recent significant advancements in GU oncology, McGregor notes there is always more work that can be done.

“Even with all of these amazing advancements, there are still patients who don’t respond,” he adds. “We can still do better and learn more. We’re constantly working to ensure more people can enjoy a great response.”

McGregor left the Air Force more than three years ago, but he hasn’t forgotten his military roots. He continues to serve in the Air Force reserves and hopes to continue his partnership with the military moving forward, serving as a mentor to younger physicians and finding new ways to make Dana-Farber’s lifesaving care available to more military members and their families.