Athena Poppas, MD, FACC: Advancing Science and the Annual Scientific Session
Get to Know Your Leaders | Athena Poppas, MD, FACC, has always been drawn to science. Originally, she spent her days doing research at Brown University as an undergraduate student, and while she was fascinated by the subject, was unsure of pursuing science as a sole career path. It was there that a friend suggested she take her love of science and translate it to a more captivating application – patient care and clinical research. The solution? Medical school. Poppas went on to the University of Wisconsin – Madison for medical school, with the intention of specializing in primary care or obstetrics and gynecology. Her path changed during her residency, where she was drawn to cardiology. Ultimately, it was the perfect combination of inspiring teachers, compelling patients and the fascinating, rapidly evolving state of the field in the early 1990s that launched Poppas on her career in cardiology. “There was such an excitement at the time with echocardiography giving a beautiful window into cardiovascular hemodynamics, and angioplasty was able to safely open coronary arteries and most patients really got better,” she said.
Poppas completed her cardiology fellowship at the University of Chicago, but ended up setting down roots in Rhode Island where she has been for the last 16 years. Now, as director of cardiovascular imaging at Cardiovascular Institute of Rhode Island and Miriam Hospitals, Poppas specializes in treating valvular heart disease and women with heart disease during pregnancy and focuses her research on echocardiography and the various facets of heart disease in women and the elderly. “Rhode Island has a wonderful community of top notch, committed clinicians and researchers, with whom I have had the privilege to work with and learn from over the years,” she said.
Poppas credits much of her inspiration in cardiology to a slew of mentors, and cites heavy hitters on the ACC’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees like C. Michael Valentine, MD, FACC, Rick Chazal, MD, FACC, Carole Warnes, MD, FACC, and Mary Norine Walsh, MD, FACC, that have shared their wisdom and knowledge throughout the years. She also credits leading women in cardiology like Linda Gillam, MD, FACC, Pam Douglas, MD, MACC, and C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, FACC, who have continuously inspired her to grow professionally and to serve as a voice for women. She is grateful for clinical and academic mentors like Roberto Lang, MD, FACC, Morton Arnsdorf, MD, MACC, Al Buxton, MD, FACC, as well as prior ACC Rhode Island Chapter Governor George McKendall, MD, FACC, who Poppas credits for encouraging her to take the next step in her career. Through McKendall’s guidance, Poppas was a member of Rhode Island’s first ACC Chapter and became its third governor. Poppas recalls that McKendall once asked her “what are you doing that isn’t advancing your passions and your career?” He encouraged her to lean away from those activities and lean in to professional advancement activities. Poppas says that simple question made a world of difference in her career path.
This year, Poppas is taking on a new role as chair of the College’s 64th Annual Scientific Session to be held in San Diego, CA, from March 14 - 16, 2015. “The breadth and depth of what attendees are looking for is truly there this year,” she said. “The location is exciting, the content is top-notch and the focus on innovation, learning and science is unparalleled.” As chair, Poppas has been intimately involved in the planning of the big event over the past year, and believes that the meeting itself holds a critical value for ACC members. “There is only so much we can do remotely to give our members what they need, and while we are working toward making digital opportunities better every day, they cannot fully replace the personal, interactive environment of an ACC Annual Scientific Session,” she said. “Attendees can head to San Diego to interact with some of the greatest minds in cardiology in person after sessions, in lounges – there is something very special about that.”
Poppas is particularly excited about the meeting’s focus on innovation and progress in cardiology, in both the content and the physical layout of the sessions and convention center. “There is a fascinating track that attendees can take part in on the future of cardiology,” she said. “It will focus on patients, new technology, the future of education, and genetics and is a must-see.” Additionally, Poppas said that “many speakers will give TED-talk-style presentations and there is a strong focus on more moderated and interactive poster presentations.” New this year, there are special four-hour “intensives” on hot topics including critical care cardiology, sports cardiology, cardio-oncology and leadership development.
But Poppas’ future-focus will not wane as ACC.15 closes its doors on March 16. As the ACC embarks on implementing its five-year Strategic Plan, Poppas shares her hopes for the ACC of the future. “My hope is that that the ACC continues to be a member driven and deeply engaged organization with a focus on knowledge dissemination and thoughtful data gathering,” she said. “Additionally, the core of the ACC is now an enthusiastic and engaged grassroots body of sections and chapters, and I look forward to seeing that continue to flourish.” Poppas believes that the College should continue to reassess its activities, and make iterative changes and improvements over the years. Like the Strategic Plan suggests, Poppas agrees the College “should grow and evolve” to continually ensure we are mission-focused.
When she isn’t volunteering her skills to the ACC or practicing cardiovascular medicine in her community, Poppas can be found hitting the pavement in her running shoes, practicing yoga or boxing with her personal pair of boxing gloves. She and her husband of 25 years, English Professor Philip Gould, enjoy traveling and spending time together with their three children, Nicholas (22), Sophia (18) and Alexander (15).
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