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- Richard J. Kovacs, MD, MACC, American College of Cardiology, Immediate Past President∗
- ↵∗Address for correspondence:
Dr. Richard Kovacs, American College of Cardiology, 2400 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.
It is hard to believe that just a little more than a month ago, social interaction, not distancing, was a key component of all our lives. Topics like telehealth, innovation, team-based care, and global accountability were discussed in the future tense and were not yet the new normal.
As we continue to battle the unprecedented COVID-19 global pandemic, it has been inspiring to witness the sharing of ideas and knowledge across the entire cardiovascular care team—from Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and South America to the United States—all with the goal of helping each other do what we do best—help and heal.
Cardiology is more than just a profession—we are a family. We are a team. Over the last 70-plus years at the American College of Cardiology (ACC), we have withstood wars, politics, acts of God, and acts of terrorism. We will withstand this latest challenge, because we are a group of committed individuals united by a shared vision for a world where innovation and knowledge optimize cardiovascular care and outcomes.
When I think of how to describe the ACC in 2020 and the year we have experienced, I think of patients, teamwork, professionalism, diversity, inclusion, advocacy, collaboration, innovation, and global health. Over the course of my presidential year, the ACC has delivered in each of these areas, whether it was launching the Collaborative Maintenance Pathway option to the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Maintenance of Certification program or welcoming MedAxiom into the ACC family as another vital component of our health system strategy.
We have made remarkable headway on our long-term strategy to foster diversity and inclusion and ensure a seamless pipeline of new cardiovascular professionals and leaders. Look for these efforts to only strengthen and grow as part of our Campaign for the Future, which you’ll hear more about in the fall.
On the advocacy front, the ACC continued to deliver on its commitment to advancing health policy solutions that will move the needle in transforming cardiovascular care and improving heart health. We saw the largest contingent ever—more than 500 cardiovascular clinicians—go to Capitol Hill as part of the ACC’s 2019 Legislative Conference. Together they advocated for improved care delivery by reducing administrative burden, improving clinician well-being, and ensuring that health policies protect patient access to appropriate cardiovascular care. Now those same advocates are working hard to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not threaten clinicians and practices whose lives and livelihoods are being upended by the abrupt change in how we deliver cardiovascular care.
With COVID-19 clearly top of mind, I am proud of how we have all rallied to share best practices and perspectives and to advocate for increased telehealth measures and clinician safety. Whether it is joint webinars with our colleagues in Wuhan, China, practice guidance from MedAxiom and ACC leaders, rapidly published research and perspectives in our JACC journals and on the ACC’s online COVID-19 hub, or grassroots actions urging lawmakers, regulators, and private insurers to provide additional flexibility around patient access, better access to personal protective equipment, and more available COVID-19 testing, we continue to work together to address this pandemic in unbelievable ways.
Similarly, this last year had us accelerating our global activities with ACC international chapters and cardiovascular society counterparts, especially the World Heart Federation, as well as industry partners, nongovernmental organizations, and others, to address the very real impacts of noncommunicable diseases around the world. Cardiovascular disease—and clearly pandemics—know no borders. The interpersonal and intersocietal relationships built by ACC members and staff around the world have made our responses more cohesive and better informed. We are stronger together! These friendships are now more important than ever as we strive to meet our goal of improving health equity and global heart health.
This is just a small snapshot of the many successes and impressive progress made toward our achieving the goals outlined in our Strategic Plan—but in truth, they pale in comparison with what we have accomplished and continue to accomplish as we navigate the constantly changing and uncertain environment in which we now find ourselves.
Teamwork and collaboration are the name of the game in the COVID-19 battle. I have heard of teams adjusting shifts to address the needs of colleagues in quarantines or those facing family/personal logistical challenges due to school and job closings. I have heard of cross-specialty teams uniting to manage at-risk patients. Increasingly, I am hearing of clinicians coming out of retirement to help in any way possible.
The best teams, whether in sports or in hospitals, are those that leverage the combined strengths of all their players. While there is no playbook for COVID-19, it is truly humbling to see teamwork and collaboration not only taking center stage but succeeding.
Professionalism also abounds. It is inspiring to see our entire profession—individual clinicians, chapters, and societies alike—come together to share best practices and learn from each other. The insights from those on the ground around the globe are vital as COVID-19 continues to spread. Respect for each other and for diverse thoughts and perspectives is not only at the core of professionalism but is also the key to finding solutions that can save lives.
I have long said one of the ACC’s greatest strengths is its ability to convene stakeholders and help to drive discourse and be a source of trusted information. A quick visit to the College’s COVID-19 hub is a great visual of this “convening” in action. From joint statements with our partner cardiovascular societies to joint webinars and shared findings from our colleagues in China to clinical guidance on topics ranging from telehealth to catheterization laboratory recommendations from our member sections and ACC chapters, we are facilitating important conversations and making progress toward real solutions.
The recent ACC.20/WCC Virtual experience is another incredible example of staff, leaders, industry, and other stakeholders convening to bring ACC.20/WCC to life—just differently. In <3 weeks, these stakeholders, along with our incredible World Heart Federation partner, were able to pull together a meeting that is typically years in the making. As ACC.20/WCC Chair Andrew Kates said during the virtual opening showcase session of the meeting, “The show must go on.” And it did!
The challenges we face today are like nothing most of us have ever seen. To meet these challenges, we need to remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing knowledge, advocating for our patients and our profession, and being the trusted source for information relating to cardiovascular care.
The ACC needs your ongoing support, your wisdom, and your continued input. It is more important than ever to become engaged with your professional society and contribute whatever you can as a volunteer in not only this battle against COVID-19 but the larger war against cardiovascular disease.
A little more than 12 months ago, I stood before a crowded room on an actual stage at the ACC’s 2019 Annual Scientific Session in New Orleans and spoke about the importance of the ACC family. Today, this family is more important than ever.
I have spoken and written this year about my mother, Elizabeth Kovacs, who lived in good health to the age of 99. She was born in 1918, the year of the greatest pandemic the world has ever seen. Her infant brother died in the pandemic. Virtually every home in the United States lost a family member. But she not only survived, she thrived through a combination of intelligence, healthy lifestyle, and common sense. May we all heed examples like hers.
It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve as ACC president this past year. I want to thank my wife, Roxanne, my daughter, Stephanie, my son, Jimmy, and his wife, Christa, and all of my colleagues at Indiana University, Krannert Institute and IU Health. My family and my colleagues in Indiana had to not only deal with the rigors of an ACC Presidential year, but a particularly challenging year. I am supremely confident that our next president, Athena Poppas, MD, FACC, will be an even better leader for the College.
I also want to remember long-time ACC CEO William Nelligan and ACC Past Presidents John Ross Jr., MD, MACC, Alfred Bove, MD, MACC, and William Winters, MD, MACC—their legacies live on at Heart House and in all of us who had the privilege to learn from and work with them. Dr. Winters lived by what he called “the 4 rules of the road”: 1) a good attitude; 2) be the best you can be; 3) have learning experiences every day, especially learning from mistakes; and 4) live your faith, whatever that may be.
As we look to the immediate future, we have our work cut out for us, but I encourage all of us to take these 4 rules with us and practice them in our daily lives. I cannot think of any other group of people I would rather be on the front lines with.
- 2020 American College of Cardiology Foundation