David Dickens: Riding the wave to Iowa

David Dickens, MD, says Iowans are among the most gracious people he has ever treated. And he says that’s due to the strong reputation of UI Hospitals & Clinics.

“I’ve studied and practiced medicine in many cities and the trust Iowans have in our health care providers is proportionally greater than any other place I’ve ever worked,” says Dickens, clinical director of pediatric oncology and clinical professor of pediatric hematology and oncology.  

Dickens believes that faith in the medical center is engrained in the culture.  

“People expect that when they come to the University of Iowa and they have a serious illness, they’re going to have a team of health care providers that are going to do the best job possible at trying to cure their loved one,” he says.  

“I went into medicine because I wanted to do something important in people’s lives,” says David Dickens, MD. “I needed to do something that had meaning and for me that was pediatric oncology.”

As a pediatric oncologist, Dickens must regularly have difficult conversations with parents about their sick children.  

When you pour your heart and your soul into your work, where you’re trying to save a child’s life who has cancer, it means the world to have families partner with you.”  

The magic of medicine  

Dickens’ grandfather was a professional magician and taught Dickens his trade from a young age. During his second year of medical school, Dickens visited the child life department. 

I told them that I had this skill,” he says. I wanted to volunteer and be in a hospital and be around patients. And they placed me on a pediatric ward that included oncology patients.”   

In between magic tricks, he began speaking with the oncology patients, who were readmitted over and over for chemotherapy. 

I went into medicine because I wanted to do something important in people’s lives,” he says. I needed to do something that had meaning and for me that was pediatric oncology. 

Riding the wave to Iowa  

Several years ago, Dickens was watching television in his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when he saw an ESPN clip showing the wave and thought it was the coolest thing in college sports. 

Dickens stands with his back to the Hawkeye stadium. “People have no idea what these families are going through and how much the wave helps them,” he says.

“Shortly after seeing that video, I saw a job posting from Iowa that seemed perfectly suited for me, for my skillset, for my experience level, and for what I wanted out of my career,” he recalls. 

Dickens visited UI Hospitals & Clinics and was impressed by the laser focus on service, research, and education and moved to Iowa City with his wife and five children.

Or as he jokes, “I have four beautiful children, five total if you count the ugly one. That comment keeps my kids vying for my favor.” 

Soon after arriving in Iowa City, Dickens experienced his first wave in the stadium; his second in the hospital.   

Ifamilies or pediatric patients with cancer are having a really bad day and 70,000 people stop what they’re doing and turn around and show their silent support with a wave, that’s incredibly powerful,” he says. People have no idea what these families are going through and how much the wave helps themIt was the wave that made me first look at Iowa; it was the people who made me stay.