Interview with Dr. Cristina Calarasu

Dr. Cristina Calarasu is a pulmonologist and an early career member (ECM) of the European Respiratory Society (ERS). She represents the ECMs in the ELF Professional Advisory Committee. In this interview Cristina talks about the ECM and about her future goals in medicine.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career

I was born and educated in Craiova, Romania, a small and beautiful city. It was my childhood dream to be a doctor and eventually this dream came true. My uncle inspired me a lot in this lifepath and my parents were also very supportive. Another dream that came true is that I recently became a mother to a cute baby girl.

I have worked as a pulmonologist since 2015 in my hometown. I am also a teaching assistant for phthisiology (the study of tuberculosis of the lung) at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Craiova.

I am the early career member (ECM) representative of respiratory infections for ERS. From this position I was put on the editorial board for the Journal Club section for the journal Breathe. I am also the ECM representative for the ELF Professional Advisory Committee.

I have been an ERS and SRP (Romanian Pneumology Society) member since 2011 and since then, I have tried to be involved in many activities to gain as much experience and knowledge as I can. In 2015, I co-founded the 9G Section (Next Generation), which is the youngest section of the SRP.

I have a special interest in tuberculosis (TB) research and my PhD thesis was about “Clinical and epidemiological links between TB and HIV between 2005 and 2015 in Southern Romania”.

What is the ECM Council?

The Early Career Member Council (ECMC) is a group of ERS members below 40 years of age. The ECMC represents the interests of their fellow early career members from the 14 scientific assemblies (groups that represent different areas of respiratory medicine in ERS).

ECMC’s vision statement is: “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy“ [William Blake] This means that: “ECMs are the audience of today and the leaders of tomorrow“. The ECMC mission is to improve the training of all ECMs and to ensure continued support for ECMs to flourish within the society.

ECMs are involved in the ERS educational activities such as ERS Congress and summer school through the chairing of sessions and reviewing of abstracts and more.

What is it like being an ECM, has it changed during COVID-19?

Being part of an international team is really enjoyable. For every project and every task you have you can always count on the other members for help if needed. New ideas are always welcomed, and we discuss how to put them in practice. Everything is planned months ahead and discussed in different meetings during the year. Most of the ideas have full support of the seniors in the assemblies.

Networking opportunities are very important for early career professionals and these can be developed during workshops and ERS Congress each year.

COVID-19 changed priorities and made us understand the importance of respiratory medicine. It has also changed how we communicate with each other and we have limited our travelling.

Increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases meant that we spent more hours in hospitals. We often used online telemedicine to keep in touch with our patients with long-term lung diseases who needed medical advice.

How does the ECM support ELF? 

ECMs are involved in different activities for ELF; as mentioned, I am the representative for the ELF Professional Advisory Committee.

Other ECMs contribute to developing new ELF factsheets that are translated into 17 different languages and read by patients all over the world. This year we have identified more ECM volunteers to translate for ELF in their native language from all over the world, not only European countries.

ECMs from each assembly have written lay summaries to highlight the most important news in medicine presented at ERS Congress in 2020.

You can read the first one here.

Do you think the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients is changing? Is there is a difference in feelings towards this within the ECM?

Times are changing and also the way we see our relationship with our patients. An informed patient is the best thing you can ask for as we expect them to be able to manage their own long-term condition and treatment.

Doctors must provide the right information from the right sources for their patients and still maintain some contact with them, even if this contact is done from a long distance via phone calls or online communication tools. Doctors must ask for feedback from every patient because patients’ personal preferences, cultural beliefs and lifestyle can influence the way they understand medical advice. Doctors must always individualise medical advice to patients and encourage them to ask if they don’t understand.

Nevertheless, physical examination of patients is missing in telemedicine and we can’t skip its importance. Patients will be advised to have at least one physical exam each semester done by a GP or any other healthcare provider they see during the year.

ECMs believe a collaborative approach between patient and healthcare provider is essential for patient-centred care. More than always, in these pandemic years out-patients need emotional support because fear and anxiety associated with illness can be as debilitating as the physical effects.

What is an interesting fact about you?

I also graduated in Integrative Psychotherapy taught by the Romanian Association for Integrative Psychotherapy, and this has helped me a lot in my relationship with people and patients. I believe communicating well with patients and changing behaviour leads to better compliance and to stronger benefits.

I also love baking cakes and spending time with my family and friends. I love travelling and used to recharge “my batteries” travelling to the mountains or at the sea in our amazing country. In the last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions I missed travelling the most.  

Anything else you would like to add?

Congratulations for all the hard work that ELF has done since COVID-19 appeared. ELF has become a trustworthy support for patients that search for online help from all over the world. Efforts to overcome this pandemic must be made from both sides – healthcare workers and patients. Online medicine is efficient and can be a solution for the moment so we can all be safe. Be informed, have faith, respect the safety rules, continue your long-term treatment, and ask for help if your condition gets worse!