Richard A. Chazal, MD, FACC: On Family, Mentors and Mission
"My family really inspires me. They know what they’re passionate about and where they’re headed,” says Richard A. Chazal, MD, FACC, president-elect of the ACC, who will take the next step in his own journey as he becomes president of the ACC at ACC’s Annual Scientific Session in Chicago, IL. “My oldest, Richard, is an incredible construction large-scale project manager, my daughter Amanda is an accomplished attorney, and my daughter Anna Ming is a triple threat: a scholar, a violinist and an all-star golfer. My wife Linda, who is also an attorney, is the most focused, incisive person in my life.”
In addition to being a family man, Chazal has practiced in Fort Myers, FL, since 1983, and currently serves the Fort Myers community as senior cardiologist and the medical director of the Heart and Vascular Institute for Lee Memorial Health System, a four-hospital, not-for-profit system. An expert in echocardiography, diagnostic catheterization and coronary computerized tomography angiography, Chazal also serves as courtesy assistant professor of medicine for the University of Florida and clinical assistant professor of medicine for Florida State University.
On the road to the ACC presidency, Chazal has served as councilor, treasurer and president of ACC’s Florida Chapter and later was elected chair of the ACC Board of Governors. He has also served as the College’s treasurer and chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, spending eight years on the ACC Board of Trustees, seven of which were spent on the executive committee. Nationally, Chazal has served as a member and/or chair of more than 50 College committees and workgroups. Chazal’s path to these leadership positions within the ACC is not unlike many ACC members’ paths to College membership or leadership. It is a road dotted with inspiring mentors – professionals who went before him and made an impact on him early on in his career.
Chazal didn’t always know what career he wanted to pursue. Like many undergraduate students, he rotated through a series of majors during his time at the University of Florida, briefly exploring paths like engineering, economics and English, in what he says was an effort to “search for challenge and purpose.” His path eventually led him to medicine, and after receiving his undergraduate degree, Chazal went on to complete medical school and internal medicine training at the University of South Florida (USF). “Once in medical school, I was drawn to the hands-on approach, diagnostic challenges and therapeutic opportunities afforded by cardiology.”
He credits many mentors for his developing passion for cardiovascular medicine, like Edward Spoto Jr., MD, FACC, whom Chazal says, “exemplified what could be done by an expert cardiologist.” Roy Behnke, MD, chief of medicine at USF “was the finest internist that I've ever seen; a role model and mentor,” he adds. It was Behnke who sent Chazal to the Krannert Institute of Cardiology at Indiana University where he completed a fellowship in cardiovascular disease and where he spent one year working under Harvey Feigenbaum, MD, FACC, as a designated echocardiography fellow, as well as under Charles Fisch, MD, MACC, and many other luminaries in the field.
While Chazal was at the Institute, there were a number of past ACC presidents on the faculty, including Fisch, Suzanne Knoebel, MD, MACC, Borys Surawicz, MD, MACC, John F. Williams Jr., MD, MACC – along with one faculty member who would serve as a future president of the College – Douglas P. Zipes, MD, MACC. Additionally, the Institute was brimming with other future leaders of the College, the likes of Eric S. Williams, MD, MACC, Richard J. Kovacs, MD, FACC, Sam Wann, MD, MACC and Gerald V. Naccarelli, MD, FACC. “At Indiana University in that era under Fisch, it was expected that one was to engage with the College,” says Chazal.
As he moved on and went into practice, role models again began to emerge, proving the value and importance of the ACC. “ACC’s Florida Chapter and its exceptional leaders provided impetus to participate,” he says. “There was something really motivating about having local access to all of the benefits the ACC and being able to engage right there in my community.” As Chazal became more involved in the ACC, his network of mentors grew. He says that a handful of other ACC past presidents who were active in the Florida Chapter served as strong role models for him, including Henry McIntosh, MD, MACC, Leonard S. Dreifus, MD, MACC, C. Richard Conti, MD, MACC, and Carl J. Pepine, MD, MACC.
As Chazal steps into the role of ACC president for the 2016 – 2017 term, he recognizes that it is a responsibility that carries a lot of weight. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to be an integral part of what I feel is the most functional and focused organization to which I've been exposed,” says Chazal. “It is also a humbling experience to follow in the footsteps of talented and devoted leaders. The responsibility of helping member and staff colleagues to work toward our mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health is enormous.”
While serving as ACC president, Chazal will ensure the focus is kept on both the mission and the patient. “As a clinical cardiologist, I remain convinced that the College best achieves its mission by continually focusing on what is the best for our patients and embedding that in everything that we do as an organization,” he says. “The path toward that goal is by empowering members, other physicians and society with the best translation of science to quality care.”
The landscape of cardiology and health care is rapidly changing and Chazal says that it is imperative that the ACC steps up to the plate to meet the challenges that come along with swift change. “Changes in health care, fueled by science and technology, present unprecedented opportunity; however, this also presents challenges for cardiovascular professionals who are often overwhelmed with new information.” Additionally, he says, “changes in delivery of care prompted by social and economic influences present an even greater paradigm shift, particularly in the U.S.”
To meet these challenges, Chazal sees many opportunities for the ACC to better help patients and cardiovascular professionals. “The College’s long-range strategic plan calls on us to be leaders in aiding our members and others with care transformation, both on the science and delivery system sides,” he says. “We also have wonderful opportunities to engage our international members bi-directionally, to both teach and learn, and thus have a positive impact on cardiovascular patients around the world.” Chazal adds that the ACC must be a leader in “leveraging the strength of the entire cardiovascular care team.” He notes that “it is essential as demographics expand the need for services.”
Taking on the role that many of his mentors held affords Chazal the opportunity to pass along his own pieces of wisdom to the next generation of College leaders. “I have two pieces of advice: keep a focus on the patient and participate at the Chapter level; that's where the rubber really meets the road,” he explains.
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