Conversations With Cardiologists: Athena Poppas, MD, FACC

May 17, 2017 | Athena Poppas, MD, FACC

'Conversations With Cardiologists' highlights prominent cardiologists throughout the country and shares their invaluable insight on cardiology and sage advice for Fellows in Training (FITs). In a recent interview with Charles Beale, MD, and Poonam Velagapudi, MD, MS, Athena Poppas, MD, FACC, chair of ACC's Governance Committee and past chair of ACC's 64th and 65th Annual Scientific Sessions, describes her work as chair, advice for Fellows in Training (FITs), and more.

The ACC Annual Scientific Sessions have been a ground for the latest groundbreaking clinical research for over 60 years. During your two-year term as chair, what were the goals you had set for yourself and how were you able to achieve them?

AP: We strove to make an in-person meeting personalized, meaningful and educational. The format and structure were designed to be interactive with the expert faculty and to achieve this, we tried to bring the audience to the speaker. Furthermore, we held "mini courses" with regards to hot topics. We also had networking "lounge and learn" areas where like-minded groups could meet and have informal discussions.

We wanted to have the depth and breadth of speakers who were representative of all the members of the ACC, including team members, international and emerging faculty and women. We also worked on faculty development to give everyone the opportunity to improve their presentation skills. We experimented with coaches in the faculty area to ensure that speakers, as well as listeners, had the best experience possible.

One of the highlights during the 2016 meeting was 'population health with emphasis on lifestyle and prevention.' What are the most important lifestyle changes that you advocate for?

AP: As cardiologists, we often neglect the profound impact of population health and focus on new technologies or new pharmaceuticals. One of the strategic goals for the ACC over the next five years was population health, and we wanted to align with this goal by educating our members in the hope of empowering individuals to combat their disease.

An emphasis on exercise is important. At the time of the first conference, Kim Allan Williams Sr., MD, MACC, was president, and he is quoted as saying, "sitting is the new tobacco." Prevention was further emphasized with a focus on diet.

The Fellows in Training (FIT) activities have increased tremendously during the annual meeting. Various sessions, including 'Stump the Professor' and 'FIT Jeopardy,' are very popular. What do you envision for FIT activities over coming years?

AP: The best part of this has been allowing the FIT group to create and organize their own educational activities. Education can and should be fun. When the next generation is so engaged, this feeling becomes contagious, and it invigorates the entire meeting.

In your recent paper on governance, you mentioned that cardiologists across the country were surveyed about changes that the College made. What is the reason behind re-organizing the structure of the ACC? How have things changed?

AP: The ACC had grown dramatically in size and scope over the last 20 years, and it was important to keep pace with the amazing work that had been done. That means looking at the structure, function and governance to keep it nimble and relevant to the members. Most important for the governance was to have the board become more strategic so that the councils and committees of experts could make more independent decisions.

What do you think will be the greatest challenges facing cardiology and the ACC in the future?

AP: Some of the greatest challenges in the future will be the limitations of Medicare resources in this country and globally inequities in access to care. It is so important for the cardiologists to work well with all of the available members of the team. This includes working with colleagues of internal medicine, along with advance practice members.

Echocardiography appears to be one of your passions. What are the biggest changes you foresee in the field of echocardiography? What is your advice for FITs training in these fields?

AP: Echocardiography is evolving in many directions. Point of care imaging is expanding as it is being performed by critical care and emergency physicians. We will need to work with them in the future to ensure studies and interpretation are performed at the highest quality. As image acquisition becomes more accessible, there will always be a need for comprehensive expert echocardiography and FIT members will be part of this process.

Furthermore, echocardiography continues to evolve from 2D to 3D, incorporation of strain imaging, etc. It is a very exciting area and time for FITs as there is so much new happening, with continual intersection with various fields, whether it be structural interventionists, surgery, pulmonary, EP, etc.

You have been a consistent inspiration for 'Women in Cardiology.' What is your message for women interested in going into cardiology and women currently training in cardiology?

AP: My hope is that whether I am a woman or a man in cardiology, it won't be a question in 10 – 20 years. Both men and women in high-level professional careers such as cardiology must continue to maintain a balance in their lives. The real message is that you should do what you are passionate about, because then it doesn't feel like work anymore.

Charles Beale, MD, is chief cardiology fellow at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, and a member of the Rhode Island Chapter of the ACC.

Poonam Velagapudi, MD, MS, is an interventional cardiology fellow at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, and chair of the FIT Section Leadership Council.