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Professional focus: An interview with ERS President, Professor Elisabeth Bel

Last Update 06/04/2021

Professor Bel is Professor of Pulmonary Diseases at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam. She is the current President of the European Respiratory Society and has been a member of the Board and member of the Science Committee of ERS 2002. Her research focuses on severe types of asthma that are difficult to treat.


Professor Bel is Professor of Pulmonary Diseases at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam. She is the current President of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and has been a member of the Board and member of the Science Committee of ERS since 2002. Her research focuses on severe types of asthma that are difficult to treat.

Can you tell us about your area of work?

I work as a professor and a doctor, specialising in lung conditions. This means that I teach trainee medical students working in lung diseases, but I also still treat patients in a clinic. After studying medicine at the University of Amsterdam, I became fascinated by people with asthma. I saw many people with severe asthma, some who died from the condition, and it became my passion to help understand this disease and its severe and difficult-to-treat forms.

I am based at the Academic Medical Centre in the University of Amsterdam. In addition to my ‘day job’ here, I have also held previous roles in the ERS, working with colleagues across Europe to combat lung diseases.

How did you become involved in this area of work?

My interest in asthma hasn’t changed since my medical degree. I decided to do a PhD to further this interest and I chose to collaborate with Peter Sterk, a young starting scientist who shared my passion for understanding asthma. During this time, I saw the advantages of being a scientist who also knows how to work with and treat patients.

After my PhD, I started training in internal medicine and I chose to specialise as a pulmonologist, working at the academic hospital in Leiden. Over these years, I also married my husband and gave birth to my two sons. The combination of patient care, research and raising children was a real challenge. I was lucky that I married the best husband in the world who supported me and shared the care of the children and the household.

I worked very hard to build my own research line in severe asthma and I became associate professor, then a full professor, and eventually head of the department of respiratory medicine at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam.

Over the years, I also became interested in the activities of ERS. After taking the roles of Assembly Secretary, Assembly Head and Chair of the 2011 ERS Congress in Amsterdam, I was elected Vice President of ERS in 2013 and started my latest adventure, which has taken me to the position I am in today.

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

During my Presidency, I am keen to strengthen links between other specialist societies, such as the European Society of Cardiology. We recently met with our colleagues there to look at how we can work closely together in the future, and I am looking forward to collaborating with them on future projects.

I am also passionate about building on our existing relationships at the EU; I recently spoke at a European Voice event about how technologies will change healthcare moving forward, and wrote about how chronic diseases are threatening Europe’s competitiveness in an article in the Brussels-based publication, Euractiv.

My goals for the year will also include strengthening partnerships with national and regional societies to increase access to ERS resources and events as part of a new membership strategy. I am also working hard on my Presidential Summit on the topic of patients at the centre of respiratory healthcare, and I’m looking forward to inviting key stakeholders to the table to discuss this important theme.

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

Patients play a key role in ERS and we are proud to facilitate patient and public input into healthcare through the activities of the European Lung Foundation (ELF). We firmly believe that it is only when patients are actively involved in healthcare that we can ensure the outcomes of our work are relevant and beneficial for them. 

To recognise the important role patients play, I am delighted to be working alongside Dan Smyth, the new ELF Chair. As a patient himself, Dan has a wealth of valuable experience to strengthen the role of ELF and is currently working hard with the ELF patient organisation network to enhance the patient voice across the field of lung health.

The patient voice is now integral to all ERS activities, with patient involvement throughout the scientific and educational programme at the ERS International Congress; patient input offered on all ERS task forces; patient versions of ERS guidelines and consensus statements being produced; and patient input into some ERS courses. We hope to see this activity increase over the years, and I look forward to seeing the role of ELF and patient input strengthened across all ERS activities.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I have a real passion for the combination of clinical work, science, education, training and management. I am lucky enough to experience all these elements as part of my role, and I work alongside a team of enthusiastic, intelligent and dedicated people. I go to work every day with great pleasure and I never have a dull moment.

What are you most proud of about the ERS?

ERS is a relatively young society, but it has generated an impressive reputation of achievement and growth across the globe. This is thanks to the excellent and solid team of professionals in the Lausanne, Brussels and Sheffield offices, and the dedication, loyalty and active role of the members 

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