Although there are only four to five female professors of cardiology in France today (compared to 200 men)
, Derumeaux is confident that with around 75% of medical students now female the balance is set to improve.
“My message to young women is to do what they find interesting. But they can’t expect success just because they’re female, they have to prove themselves,” she says.
Now head of the Department of Echocardiography at the University Hospital, Lyon, Derumeaux says that all her current trainees are women
“The fact that I work in a female dominated environment isn’t due to positive discrimination, but because women proved the best candidates,” she says
Derumeaux has gone out of her way to ensure her department is family friendly
, with meetings held in lunchtimes rather than evenings, and schedules organised with clear days for research so there’s no need to work weekends. All this is a far cry from her own experience as a trainee in the late 1980s working in interventional cardiology, where no account was taken of her pregnancy. “I received more radiation exposure then than at any other period in my life,” she says.
Derumeaux, a French national born in colonial Algeria, first determined to be at doctor at the tender age of four. “After school each day I accompanied a nurse from the local hospital on her rounds. I observed the remarkable rapport she established with patients and the difference she made to lives,” says Derumeaux.
Graduating from the University of Marseille in 1983, her initial interest in cardiology was sparked by the ground-breaking work of heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. “I was fascinated by the idea of saving people’s lives with new hearts and the fact that he was so handsome,” she says.
Undertaking her cardiology specialist training at Bordeaux University, Derumeaux became interested in echocardiography rather than the more conventional interventional approach.
“Echo allowed you to understand the underlying physiology and identify optimum therapies,” she says.
At the University of Rouen, which she moved to in 1988, Derumeaux introduced the first Tissue Doppler Imaging (TDI) machines to France
, using the technology to measure velocities of different parts of the ventricular wall through the cardiac cycle. Exploring the consequences of myocardial infarction, she identified the layers of myocardium which could contract and areas already dead.
“TDI allows you to both identify septal abnormalities in subclinical disease and prognosis for patients with advanced disease,” she says.
Further applications of TDI included use in heart failure to identify good responders for resynchronisation therapy, and identification of a new phenotype for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Fabry disease. Currently Derumeaux is using TDI to assess cardioprotective effects of ischaemic post-conditioning.A highlight of her time
at Rouen was supporting Alan Cribier with 2D echo
, in the first ever transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) procedure
In 2004 she moved to Lyon for the opportunity to focus more on research. Today Derumeaux is involved in an initiative exploring relationships between telomere length and cardiovascular ageing.
“I’m really interested that you can have patients of 80 with the hearts of 20 year olds, and patients who’re smokers with the hearts of 80 year olds despite being 40,” she says.For a cohort of 400 patients she is correlating telomere lengths (extracted from blood samples) with echocardiographic images.
As the only woman on the current ESC Board, Derumeaux is keenly aware of the lack of female representation
“But what’s undoubtedly more important than gender is the individual’s dedication. While I don’t think that the ESC would necessarily be run any more effectively with more women, it would be more representative,” she says.
For the EACVI
at least, she is hopeful there will soon be more female Board members. The EACVI Club 35,
which started in 2010, has created a vibrant community of young echocardocardiographers, many of whom are women
, with the first chair being Laura Ernande.
“Club 35 brings echocardiographers into the EACVI from an early stage in their careers, making it a perfectly natural progression for them to apply for office,” she says.
She has been especially gratified that in the recent elections to the EACVI board eight out of 20 candidates were women
One of Derumeaux’s greatest regrets is that she was unable to spend more time with her children when babies. Nowadays she strives to achieve a work-life balance, ringfencing weekends for her husband and children, now aged 25 and 24. “We play tennis, go jogging, and regularly attend the opera,” she says. Holidays are spent horse riding in places like Mongolia and Patagonia. “Away from the internet and mobile phones I can completely disconnect,” she says.