2020 Was “Challenging and Creative” According to Dr. Harrington, How Would You Describe It?!

Everyone has different feelings about 2020 but I think it’s safe to say we have all taken the time to reflect on this past year and are filled with a new sense of hope for 2021. I sat down with Dr. Robert Harrington (past AHA President) to get his unique perspective on 2020 and what he looks forward to in 2021.

Dr. Robert Harrington, Immediate Past President, American Heart Association

Reflecting on 2020:

What went well in 2020 from the AHA? At the beginning of the pandemic, the AHA took a conscious effort to adapt as an organization. The AHA quickly pivoted its science and provided rapid response grants. Approximately 700 applications were submitted and the AHA fueled about 20 grants focusing on COVID research. The AHA also was seamlessly able to create a COVID registry based on our extensive experience with “get with the guidelines.” The organization continued to focus on being a voice for our patients with cardiovascular disease and wanting to bring quality evidence to clinicians – a few examples that come to mind include the debating of stopping ACE inhibitors and the effects of QT prolongation medications in patients with COVID.

What was the biggest change/disruption, how did you deal with it? As an academic clinical  researcher, not being able to travel to meetings and conferences was very challenging. The meetings provide key networking that helps keep projects going but now we have less person-to-person contact. As AHA president, I wasn’t able to travel abroad to represent our organization and continue to build on our existing international relationships. Another change we also had to consider was how the pandemic and social distancing would affect the AHA 2020 sessions. Fortunately, our virtual platform was a success and we were continued to deliver pivotal science.

Looking forward to 2021:

How do you define success in 2021? Taking lessons on how to do things differently, for example, shifting to an online platform for fundraising and reviewing grants was successful. We were able to continue to do the work entrusted to us. We have embraced this shift in culture to help our organization grow and continue to be successful. We are also very exciting to see what will be discovered from the COVID registry.

What do you look forward to in the field of cardiology in 2021? The pandemic has fostered a lot of creativity. I think continued exploration in digital technology for patients with be key. Can we better control blood pressure, medication adherence, glucose control, etc via digital technology. This is an area of science and health care that is exponentially growing and it will be exciting to see what else we are able to develop.

Quick Tips for FIT:

How should FIT/Early career clinicians approach 2021? As we move back towards “normal” times, people need to take time off and decompress. We will find relief and gratitude we have gone through such a tremendous pandemic. It’s important to recognize burn-out and even more important for all of us to rejuvenate.

What do you think will cause the most stress and how can FIT/EC navigate it for a better future? My observation this past year (and during my time as an EC professional) it is the constant balance between professional vs personal life. During the pandemic, school closures and lack of elder care for example, have been a huge stressor on professionals. I hope we learned how to do things differently going forward to foster a better environment.


The memories of 2020 are still fresh in our minds but after speaking with Dr. Harrington, I too am more hopefully for a brighter, better, and as productive 2021. We have seen a tremendous growth in our community, compassion, and desire to help each other grow. So, good riddance to 2020 and cheers to 2021!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”