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Leading the ESC in unprecedented times: Professor Stephan Achenbach

How does a busy German cardiologist come to lead the world’s largest organisation of healthcare professionals dedicated to fighting heart disease? Just ask Professor Stephan Achenbach.


“The ESC drew me in,” said Prof. Achenbach. “The combination of interacting with a fantastic group of cardiologists and working with the ESC staff, who are so enthusiastic about the society’s mission, made me want to get more and more involved.”

But it is not just about professional fulfilment for Prof. Achenbach, Chair of Cardiology at Friedrich Alexander University (Erlangen, Germany). “As a doctor my job is to help people, but I can only treat a few patients each day in the clinic. However, by working to put the right initiatives in place, the ESC presidency provides a fantastic opportunity to influence the lives of countless patients.”

One of Prof. Achenbach’s key priorities is the pursuit of ‘quality’. “The ESC has played a major role in improving the standard of cardiovascular care over the decades, through its guidelines, research, education, and its advocacy efforts,” he said, “and it’s my job to make sure we continue on that upward trajectory.”

Leading such a large and diverse organisation as the ESC is a huge responsibility at the best times, but Prof. Achenbach takes on his new role against the backdrop of the global pandemic. “The COVID-19 era requires us to make decisions for an uncertain future, which is extremely difficult. Helping to steer the ESC through this, and potential future pandemics, and emerge stronger, is very important. Preparing the ESC to be ‘ready for anything’ is a major part of my remit,” he said.

Aside from COVID-19, is the presidential role more difficult than in years past? “It is certainly more complex, and this is one of my biggest challenges over the next two years,” said Prof. Achenbach. “As knowledge about cardiovascular diseases grows, the range of subspecialties becomes even larger. From cardiovascular genomics to cardio-oncology to new non-surgical interventions, the cardiology field is now so vast. But we need to keep it together.” He stated, “Better communication and partnership are high on my agenda. From previous roles within the ESC, I have learnt the value of taking time to bring everyone on board to ensure we move forward collectively. By setting clear common goals together, and through open communication, I think we can make progress with unity.”

Prof. Achenbach points to financial constraints as another contemporary challenge. “In previous years, we had more flexibility and more financial means to test new ideas and activities.” He continued, “Financial pressures are taking away some of that freedom, but this forces us to be more focused about our decision making.”

He is also aware that ESC members – ‘the audience’ – are very different in 2020. “On-demand online resources are a central part of today’s world – whatever you want, when you want it and exactly packaged to your requirements,” he explained. “This is not how scientific education and information have traditionally been assembled. It is not going to be the only channel, but this is something that our members demand and that we must be prepared to provide – and we will.”

Believing in the ESC as passionately as he does, Prof. Achenbach considers it his mission to maintain the ESC’s reputation. As part of this, he wants to keep the ESC on the world map. “Many colleagues from other continents are turning to the ESC because it provides what they are looking for,” he said. “By fostering these international relationships, we can strengthen our global reputation even further.”

So how will Prof. Achenbach ensure his presidency gets off to a strong start? “By creating the best possible team,” is his response. And he is in no doubt about his own role: “It is my job to help coordinate the process and to get the best out of all the brilliant minds within the ESC.”


Stephan Achenbach at ESC Congress 2020


Watch Prof. Stephan Achenbach share his vision for the next two years, including why quality, communication and partnership are his top priorities.



The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.