Interview with Professor Daiana Stolz, European Respiratory Society Education Council Chair

Professor Daiana Stolz is Chair of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) Education Council. In this interview, we asked her about her work, how ERS is helping to educate both healthcare professionals and patients, and about why she is hopeful about the future.

Could you start by giving us an overview of your work – what are your specialism and areas of interest?

I am trained in internal medicine and pneumology. I work as a professor at the University Hospital Basel, a specialist care academic institution with almost 800 beds in Switzerland. I feel very fortunate to be able to take care of patients, to provide academic teaching and to lead a research group. Most of my research relates to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, but I also work on projects dealing with lung infections, particularly pneumonia; systemic biomarkers; and interventional bronchoscopy. My research group comprises postdocs, PhD students, research nurses and medical students working on their master’s thesis. As well as clinical projects, we focus on translational studies – for instance, using human lung cells to understand how the body reacts to conditions and treatments.

How did you become involved in this field of work?

My grandmother suffered from COPD. Because of her, I knew I would specialise in pulmonary medicine, even before starting medical school. I became involved in clinical research as a medical student and continued designing and performing clinical studies alongside my clinical training. After receiving a master’s in quantitative methods from the Harvard School of Public Health, I was honoured with a clinical professorship, which gave me the means to establish my own research group. The combination of the clinical work and patient-focused research is rewarding, because you see the advances in science improving people’s care.

Within ERS, you currently Chair the Education Council. What does this role involve? 

As Chair of the Education Council, I help guide ERS’s efforts to drive standards in the training of respiratory professionals and to provide access to high-quality educational resources. I work closely with a highly-qualified educational team to develop a curriculum that covers the different lung conditions, organising professional development events and online courses for the transfer of knowledge and skills, and managing publication of learning materials.

ERS also provides means to assess the quality of the training of physicians on their way to became pneumologists – the HERMES examination – and to evaluate the training centres in pulmonary medicine across Europe. We work hard to address the educational needs of pulmonary fellows, general pneumologists and subspecialists.

What role do patients currently play within ERS education activities? 

ERS is proud to have patients involved in most educational activities and to work intensively with the European Lung Foundation to increase awareness related to lung health. The participation of patients is crucial in our activities, simply because they are the reason for everything we do. We are interested in their needs and views and count on their support to transfer important concepts related to lung health to the public.

There is only a chance for social and political improvement if healthcare professionals are able to partner with patients and speak with one voice – demanding, for instance, international regulations for the quality of specialist training, or stricter protection against toxic substances such as second hand smoke. I believe that this collaboration will be even more important in the future, ensuring that we understand each other and work on common goals.

With more people living with long-term conditions that require self-management, and the availability of information online, the education needs of patients is shifting. In light of this, how can healthcare professionals support their patients, and how is ERS helping?

First of all, the better healthcare professionals are trained, the better patients will be cared for. It is also important to realise that doctors work for up to 3040 years after completing medical school, and thus continuous medical education and professional development is essential to ensure that healthcare professionals still know what they need to know to continue providing high quality healthcare until the end of their careers.

Both patients and healthcare professionals need to know where to look for information, and the information available should be accurate and suitable for the target population. ERS, together with ELF, provides access to informative material, which I believe to be very helpful to educate both patients and healthncare professionals.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I most enjoy the feeling that what I do can make a difference to people. Whether it is finding out which kind of infection someone has and treating it successfully, analysing data together with a medical student, giving a talk about a new treatment, designing a trial or a symposia, discussing about an experiment, or writing a manuscript, I am passionate about my work and I think that every effort is worthwhile.

I would like to appeal to both healthcare professionals and patients to never lose hope. There are so many conditions we believed in the past to be untreatable or incurable, such as idiopathic lung fibrosis or cystic fibrosis, yet there have been so many medical advances no one predicted. Science is an evolving field and we need to give our best to advance it.

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