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Interview with ERS President, Professor Jørgen Vestbo

Interview with ERS President, Professor Jørgen Vestbo

Professor Jørgen Vestbo is the current ERS President as well as Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, an honorary consultant at the North West Lung Centre, University Hospital South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust and an adjunct Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark. He has taken part in developing international guidelines for the diagnosis and management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

In this interview, he shares his vision for ERS in the coming year, talks about how he balances his research and clinical work, and touches upon the growing role of patients in research.

Can you tell us about your area of work?

I am a doctor with an interest in clinical research and epidemiology. Epidemiology deals with populations rather than individuals and can tell us a lot about risk factors, disease trends over time, and the effects of changes in healthcare in general. “Translational research” is often referred to as research “from bench to bedside”; however, I have always felt that we need to have an even broader view and include populations and public health. Like any translation this works both ways – inspiration for basic research may come from findings in larger populations and discoveries at a basic level will hopefully also have an impact on a population level.

How did you become involved in this area of work?

My work focuses on COPD. When I graduated, most of my colleagues focused on asthma as it was generally seen to be a much more “exciting” area than COPD. Since then, much more attention has been given to COPD, recognising the complexity of this condition, as well as the impact it has on so many people all over the world. I was lucky to both choose COPD as my area of interest and to meet inspirational colleagues who introduced me to the possibilities in epidemiology.

What are your priorities in your role as ERS President over the next year?

Over the next year, I will continue to oversee the ERS 5-year strategy implemented in 2013. This included several key areas of growth for ERS, including increasing access to ERS materials, embedding scientific understanding at the ERS Congress and strengthening our publications. We will also need to ensure that the ERS structure is capable to meet the requirements and the challenges that come with being a larger and broader organisation.

We will continue to develop our new membership strategy, which has already seen the transformation of ERS into a European-based international organisation. We will build on the relationships we have made with national and regional organisations across the globe, to extend access to ERS resources and materials to many more respiratory professionals. We currently have close to 40,000 ERS members and we are hoping to see this rise over the next year.

We will continue with our aim of strengthening science at the ERS International Congress in London in September. Our plans for this meeting are now in full force and we are looking forward to a fabulous Congress there in September this year, where we will also launch a new Healthy Lungs for Life campaign.

How do you see the role of patients within ERS developing?

The role of patients is surely increasing. Just as we have seen research within silos being substituted by more translational research, we also see a growing need for – and impact of – patient involvement in research. Patient involvement in advocacy is also crucial and the benefits in this area of having ERS and ELF working closely together are immense. I am convinced that the ERS/ELF partnership will continue to be a strong component in future ERS strategies.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I equally enjoy my clinical work and my research interactions. Being a doctor is still very rewarding and it is often from the clinical encounters that research ideas evolve – or either turns out to make sense or need a re-think. I also enjoy meeting so many interesting and talented people all over the world when I am travelling and representing ERS. This bridges from the well-known peers whose papers I have read and felt inspired by, to the young, rising stars. Meeting the latter shows me how quickly research and scientific thinking evolves – and sometimes makes me feel a bit old…

What are you most proud of about ERS?

The professionalism of an organisation that can deliver and develop so efficiently and the dedication and abilities of the ERS staff that makes this possible.