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My Professional Journey

I was fascinated by the body’s circulatory system in high school. I was also concerned about heart disease being the number one killer of adults in the world. I figured I would become a cardiologist and help save hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people over time in personalized and public health care from fatal heart conditions. I suspected then that I would one day be a physician in cardiovascular diseases.

In college, everyone knew. I majored in Physics, spent lots of time in Spanish, and met my humanities and social sciences requirements, yet everyone knew I was destined for medical school. I completed all my premedical studies, volunteered at a local hospital, and shadowed doctors, and pursued research. My high honors senior thesis for the Bachelor’s and my excellent Master’s thesis were ultimately based on analyzing blood samples to determine health and disease and make predictions, using quantitative analytical methods in genomics and transcriptomics (gene expression profiles). Those studies in the blood were the closest I could get to the circulatory system as a physics major doing biomedical research at that time. It was fantastic!

By the time I started medical school, I figured that if I didn’t become a cardiologist, then I would be an oncologist or practice medical genetics (thinking that would be the closest thing to genomics). In medical school didactics, I quickly learned that medical genetics back then wasn’t what I thought it would be, and it didn’t focus on adults as much as I would have liked. Oncology lectures focused less on the conversation with the patient and more on signaling pathways that I had not yet begun to understand. I decided maybe that was not for me either. The physiology of the heart indeed captured my heart; the lungs and kidney were great too. So there I was, back to the heart and its circulatory system.

In my third year of medical school, I faced a dilemma. I enjoyed Psychiatry, Radiology, General Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Family Medicine, and Pediatrics, among other rotations, as well as my electives in Cardiology. What was I to do with my life as a doctor? I could almost see myself doing any of those! Almost.

During the PhD of my MD/PhD program, I shadowed a general cardiologist. I noticed that most of his patients were older and already in atrial fibrillation or heart failure. I asked myself, “Where are the 40-60 year olds before this happens?” I decided to create Preventive Cardiology. That was in 2006. I googled and saw that it already existed! In fact, we had just recruited a brand new faculty cardiologist, whose focus was prevention. I quickly became her mentee and spent some time in clinic with her. I realized that when it really came down to it, I saw myself managing and even more so preventing heart disease.

Then one day, I saw an email about a pilot research study in cardio-oncology. Thankfully, I was able to be a part of the study and learn more about this emerging field. This was in 2010. Almost a decade ago, I realized that my calling in medicine was to practice preventive cardiology and cardio-oncology and pioneer the merging of the two.

So, in my fourth year of medical school, I spent lots of time in various Cardiology clinics, to gain knowledge and exposure in other fields within Cardiology. I also had the opportunity to spend time in Medical Oncology and Radiation Oncology clinics, as well as with the radiation therapy technicians, treatment planners, and medical physicists. I performed literature reviews on my own and brought in articles to discuss with the Cardiologists, Medical Oncologists, and Radiation Oncologists. My favorite paper then is still quoted today in many experts’ presentations on ischemic heart disease risk resulting from radiation therapy.

With such incredible exposure to Cardiology, Oncology, and Cardio-Oncology patient care, research, and education, I thought about what I wanted to do most in the world as a professional. It became clear to me in my fourth year of medical school that I wanted to manage and, even more profoundly, prevent heart disease in the general population and in individuals with a current or prior history of cancer, and especially too in women. During that year, I got to present on my learning experiences in patient care, research, and education to the entire Cardiology department.

In 2012, in my last year of medical school and the MD/PhD program, I matched into the highly selective clinician investigator program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I signed on the dotted line in advance for Internal Medicine Residency, Cardiology Fellowship, and Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Everyone, therefore, knew I was for sure destined to #ChooseCardiology.

During my second year of residency, during my Oncology rotation, I cared for a woman with congestive heart failure thought to be due to anthracycline therapy administered many years before. That blew the whole thing open. I informed my faculty and advisors in Oncology, Preventive Cardiology, and Cardio-Oncology that I desired and planned to pursue both Preventive Cardiology and Cardio-Oncology and find ways to merge the two.

Over seven years at Mayo Clinic, I was, therefore, able to focus much of my research and subspecialty training and learning efforts in Preventive Cardiology and Cardio-Oncology (see CardioOncTrain.com). I also had the privilege of several clinic sessions in Heart Disease in Women. To me, all three are related, in so many ways.

My mission, therefore, is to protect the heart from ischemia, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, and other ailments in the general population, and particularly those individuals with a current or prior history of cancer (and especially in women).

Thus, I am now a cardiologist, with special emphases in preventive cardiology and cardio-oncology, especially in women. I am also a poet, and writing poetry about science, medicine, and now the heart has truly become one of my greatest joys (see LyricalMezzanine.com).

I share this story with you as an example of an individualized pathway in #ChooseCardiology. Perhaps you too are leaning towards areas in Cardiology to which you have not had much exposure, yet you know somebody has to do it, and that it must be created. Don’t let the unknown obscure the certainty of your calling. Find mentors and advisors who will believe in your potential and vision and spur you on, and who will one day be proud and excited to see your passion become reality.

 

“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.”

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Why Cardiology?

“Why Cardiology?” is one of the most common questions I have been asked by friends, family, interns, residents, and even the occasional stranger sitting next to me on a flight. Despite being a simple question, the answer is very complex. I initially started residency thinking I would pursue a career in pulmonary/critical care – I loved the acuity, broad differential diagnoses, and the bond created with families. However, after my first month in the unit, I quickly abandoned this career path for multiple reasons. Shortly thereafter, I did my first rotation on the cardiology wards service with Dr. Matthew McGuiness (who is still one of my closest mentors) and I saw the light.

The month on the cardiology wards service is best described as “finding the missing piece of the puzzle.” I loved the anatomy, physiology, patient population, subtle differences in presentations, and my interactions even as an intern with patients. I also loved the depth of cardiology – including both clinical and basic science research opportunities, advanced fellowships options, and the ability to create my niche in cardiology. I learned cardiologists were pursuing careers in preventative cardiology, cardio-oncology, cardiac critical care, and cardio-obstetrics. I was blown away at the possibilities of a career in cardiology and having the ability to create my perfect dream job.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very interested in critical care when I started residency but did not want to be in the medical ICUs. The cardiac intensive care units were much more interesting to me with advanced hemodynamics, malignant arrhythmias, various mechanical circulatory devices, and seeing how quickly the realm of the cardiac ICUs were changing. The CCUs are no longer filled with patients who have had a STEMI requiring a week-long admission, but rather those with decompensated heart failure/cardiogenic shock requiring mechanical circulatory support (MCS) with LVADs, Impella, or ECMO.

I am now combining all of my loves – cardiology, critical care, and obstetrics (yes, I at one point wanted to go into OBGYN) for my job as an attending. With the help of my mentors, I have been able to combine all my passions into one. I will be attending in the cardiac intensive care unit and have a predominantly general cardiology clinic with a focus on cardio-obstetric patients. And the best part, every cardiology fellow can create his/her dream job.

A few key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I see myself as someone who enjoys the in-patient or the out-patient setting? This will help focus career options and set the stage for your career.
  • Am I a proceduralist or not? For me, I hate wearing lead, so it was a simple decision to not go into interventional or EP.
  • What type of patients do I get the most joy of taking care of. In my case, it was the critically ill and women who are pregnant with cardiovascular disease.
  • Who is 5-10 years ahead of me career-wise and has my ideal job? This has helped me be more active with research, clinics, conferences, and improve my fund of knowledge. It also gave me a roadmap to follow – no need to reinvent the wheel.

Of course, these are starting points and it’s a vast topic that takes time to explore. My journey of “why cardiology” has been filled with highs and low, but with the help of various mentors I have a clear vision of what I envision for my future career.

 

“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.”

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Learning on the Go – Some Podcast Recommendations

As researchers, clinicians, and/or trainees, there never seems to be enough time in the day to get all the stuff done that we want to get done. There seems to always be more papers that we want or should read. One of my favorite ways to try to stay up to date with the latest research publications is listening to podcasts. I enjoy listening to podcasts while commuting and doing chores, and sometimes while working in the lab when no one else is around. Depends on my mood whether I can listen to a podcast while exercising or would prefer to listen to more energetic music.

Below is a list of some of my favorite cardiology podcasts. This is not a comprehensive list and I am not affiliated with any of these podcasts. I also am not endorsing any of the content discussed in the below podcasts. This list is also biased towards those podcasts that are easily accessible via smartphone podcast/listening applications and do not require downloading individual episodes from specific websites. These podcasts are not listed in any particular order.

  • Circulation on the Run: Summarizes the articles published in a specific issue of Circulation and has a more in-depth discussion of a featured article.
  • Discover CircRes: Summarizes the articles published in a specific issue of Circulation Research and also has a more in-depth discussion of a featured article often with the article’s corresponding author as well as the trainee involved in the article.
  • The Bob Harrington Show: Interviews and discussions of various topics in cardiology and the practice of medicine.
  • This Week in Cardiology: Dr. John Mandrola summarizes and provides his insight on some of the top news in cardiology for the week.
  • JACC Podcast: Dr. Valentin Fuster, editor-in-chief of the Journal of American College of College (JACC) provides an overview and summary of the articles published in a specific issue of JACC.
  • Eagle’s Eye View Your Weekly CV Update from ACC.org: A weekly cardiovascular update from Dr. Kim Eagle, editor-in-chief of ACC.org.
  • ACCEL Lite Features ACCEL Interview on Exciting CV Research: Interviews and summaries of some of cardiology’s most interesting research topics, hosted by Dr. Spencer King III.
  • Heart: Summaries of original research, editorials, and reviews from the BMJ’s Heart
  • Heart Sounds with Shelley Wood: Discusses some of the top stories in cardiology covered by the TCTMD reporters.
  • CardioNerds: This is a podcast that I just started listening to. It discusses high yield cardiovascular topics in a case discussion format.
  • AP Cardiology, ACC CardiaCast, Cardiac Consult A Cleveland Clinic Podcast for Healthcare Professionals: Three different podcasts that provide summaries of various cardiology topics.
  • JAMA Editors’ Summary, JAMA Clinical Reviews, JAMA Medical News Interviews and Summaries: Three different podcasts which provide summaries of various medical topics.
  • Annals of Internal Medicine Podcast: Highlights and interviews from a specific issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. The American College of Physicians has another podcast, Annals On Call Podcast, which features Dr. Bob Centor discussing influential articles that are published in Annals of Internal Medicine. I have not yet started listening to Annals on Call, but hope to do so in the near future.
  • ED ECMO: Discusses resuscitative extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and extra-corporeal life support (ELS). At the University of Minnesota, cardiologists manage veno-arterial ECMO (VA-ECMO). More to come about this during an upcoming blog!

I am always open to hearing suggestions for new podcasts related to science/medicine or other topics!

 

“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.”

 

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What do Immunology and Impostor Syndrome Have In Common?

As an Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology Fellow this year, transplantation immunology is an important part of my curriculum. While I try to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in care in heart failure, cardiogenic shock, and mechanical circulatory support, I recently took a deeper dive into the fascinating history of organ transplantation and immunology – which brought me to Sir Peter B. Medawar, widely regarded as the “father of transplantation”.

Sir Peter Brian Medawar

Sir Peter Brian Medawar: https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/peter-medawar-7366.php

Medawar was a Brazilian-born British zoologist who received (with Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet) the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1960 for developing and proving the theory of acquired immunological tolerance. His early training and studies in England were focused in zoology and comparative anatomy, and his initial research was on connective tissue cells and tissue culture.

He became interested in skin grafting during World War II after witnessing military pilots sustaining severe burns in plane crashes and moved to Glasgow to continue this work for the Medical Research Council. Over the 1940s-early 1950s, he performed and published a series of experiments on the behaviors of skin autografts and allografts in burn victims. He demonstrated that skin allografts (i.e. homografts), although initially successful, were rejected within two weeks. In his experiments, when a second allograft from the same donor was attempted, the allograft was rejected much more quickly. Thus, he established the idea that allograft reactions were immunological. In the conclusion of their paper The Fate of Skin Homografts in Man, Gibson and Medwar state that “The time relations of the process, the absence of a local cellular reaction, and the accelerated regression of the second set of homografts suggest that the destruction of the foreign epidermis was brought about by a mechanism of active immunization.”

He furthered the ideas of genetically determined immunologic systems and immunologic tolerance through additional studies in different model organisms, including cattle and mice. In 1951, he tested the effects of cortisone on survival of skin homografts in rabbits and found that the daily subcutaneous administration of 10 mg cortisone acetate to adult rabbits delayed graft healing and vascularization and lengthened the life of skin homografts by 3x-4x!

Figure 3 from Billingham RE, Krohn PL, Medawar PB. Effect of Cortisone or Survival of Skin Homografts in Rabbits. Br Med J. 1951

Figure 3 from Billingham RE, Krohn PL, Medawar PB. Effect of Cortisone or Survival of Skin Homografts in Rabbits. Br Med J. 1951. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2068993/pdf/brmedj03547-0003.pdf

As excited as I was to read about this fascinating history of immunology and transplantation, I was even more interested to find that Medawar was a supporter of women in science (#HeForShe). In 1979, he published a book called Advice to a Young Scientist, a book he says is “the kind of book I myself should have liked to have read when I began research…” In the eight short pages of his book’s fifth chapter entitled “Sexism and Racism in Science”, he addresses the concepts of impostor syndrome, gender equality in academic medicine, and the frequent invisibility of women in science – all concepts still at the forefront of our current dialogue 40 years later.

Excerpt from Advice to a Young Scientist by Peter B. Medawar

Excerpt from Advice to a Young Scientist by Peter B. Medawar

The history of medicine is full of fascinating personalities and stories like this one, and to quote Medawar himself, “I do not know any scientist of any age who does not exult in the opportunity continuously to learn.”

 

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.

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Pursuing Cardiology As a Medical Student/Resident

As an Early Career blogger for the AHA, I wanted to write my final blog post on advice for those interested in pursuing cardiology. My interest in cardiology began during my first year of medical school, and now as I am applying to become a fellow, I wanted to look back at the last 7 years.

 

Medical school

As a medical student, it can be difficult to know what field you would like to pursue. Although some may know from the beginning what they would like to specialize in, the majority of students must use their time during their clinical years to explore different fields. Given this, I would advise students to focus on getting a good background in all aspects of medicine during medical school. Take as much in from your exposure to each field. Do well on your boards, take ownership of the patients you see and read as much as you can.

So as a first or second year how can you know if cardiology is a field you should consider? Well, what made me interested in the field during those years was the physiology behind the mechanics of the heart.  It made intuitive sense. The time I spent reading Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease did not feel like studying. This inspired me to sign up for electives in cardiology later on in medical school. During third and fourth year, rotating on a cardiology consult service or a CCU service can help you see the day to day life of cardiologist. It exposes you to the common consults and admissions in the field. It also allows you to get to know the type of personalities in cardiology. If you are interested, get involved in research projects.

 

Internal Medicine Residency

In the beginning of my residency, my advisor told me that before one could become a great cardiologist, they must become a great internist. This is something that I heard echoed by cardiology program directors during this past year’s AHA Scientific Sessions. A passion for patient care and an understanding of the intricacies of internal medicine are paramount in the path of a future cardiology fellow.

Be a good citizen in your program. Complete all your administrative duties on time. Be the one that chiefs can rely on when scheduling difficulties occur. Residency is not just about being smart but being reliable and hardworking. This makes you stand out.

While on the wards, incorporate the use of ultrasound in your daily practice. Try and volunteer for procedure and make it a goal to become comfortable with central and arterial lines.

Depending on your interests in cardiology, as a medicine resident it is worthwhile to get involved in a research project. It is important to truly have a passion for the research topic you decide to study. Whether it is because a patient you saw was affected by what you are researching, or if you have background in that topic, it is important to have a connection with the research topic. This is what drives you to spend your time outside of the hospital working on the research project. Attempting to work on a project in the name of “just having research” is a recipe for burnout and you will likely not complete the project.

Show case your research either through presentations at the AHA Scientific Sessions poster session or the American College of Cardiology meeting. Recognize that the deadline for abstract submission for these conferences are months before the meeting. Besides presenting, networking and sitting in on lectures important topics in cardiology. It is inspiring and will further your aspiration to work hard.

Finally, make sure to begin working on your application, specifically the personal statement early.

 

What was your experience applying to cardiology?

 

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Bigger Isn’t Always Better: My 3 Tips on Maximizing the Small Conference Experience

In my March blog, I wrote about a few of my tips to get involved in our cardiovascular professional societies. I received a lot of great questions and feedback from trainees across the spectrum of cardiovascular disease through Twitter, LinkedIn, and email, so I thought I would share some similar content this month.

As busy cardiology fellows in training (FIT), finding the free time to attend more than one professional conference in an academic year is tough. Trying to choose among the various local, regional, national, and international opportunities can be difficult, not to mention the financial and time commitments required to attend multiple meetings in a year. As I have become a more senior cardiology FIT, I have come to appreciate the value of attending smaller, disease or topic-specific conferences. Here are 3 of my tips to make the most of these opportunities.

MindTheGraph.com

1) Search the CME offerings of academic institutions around you: Most large academic medical centers host continuing medical education (CME) programs focused on specific topics or diseases throughout the year. They are often held on weekends but are usually less time-intensive than the national professional society meetings. Despite their smaller sizes, the organizers will still invite preeminent clinicians and scholars in the relevant fields, which make these meetings terrific opportunities for FITs to access thought leaders and craft collaborations. I recently attended a weekend-long CME course focused on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at an academic institution in a neighboring state. At the conference, I reconnected with a long-distance mentor who was invited to give a lecture, met a junior faculty member and brainstormed cross-institutional collaborations, and learned about HCM from internationally renowned clinicians and scientists. In addition, taking a deep dive into a topic of your interest can be a welcome respite from the hectic cognitive shifting we are forced to do at larger conferences.

MindTheGraph.com

2) Find a way to participate: While smaller conferences usually do not have much room for flexibility in the programming, the organizers may allow FITs to present cases to accompany the didactics. Offer to present a case that ties into the talk of a speaker whom you are most interested in meeting. By doing so, you can “break the ice” with your case presentation and worry less about initiating interaction with the speaker. You may also have the course registration fee, if there is one for FITs, waived through participating. Along the way, stay responsive over email and telephone and obey the organizer’s deadlines for submission of your materials. If you notice that the conference does not have an avenue for FIT involvement, offer to contribute by presenting a case or submitting a poster. Last year, I advised one of my mentees to contact the organizers of a sports cardiology course she was interested in attending. Even though there were no publicized opportunities for FIT engagement, she let the organizers know about her interest in attending and enthusiasm to contribute. The organizers invited her to the course and extended discounted registration. This year, she is on the course planning committee and is spearheading the FIT case and poster presentation sessions!

MindTheGraph.com

3) Follow up after the course: Send an email to the course directors and your new contacts after the course. Let them know how much you enjoyed the experience and that you would be delighted to participate in the same or a similar conference again. Close the loop with new contacts and propose next steps to move those potential collaborations forward. Connect with each other through social media, as well.

 

What are your tips for maximizing the small conference experience? I would love to hear them over the next month – share them with other #AHAFIT and me on Twitter and LinkedIn!

 

 

 

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Cardiac Intensivist – Just an Extension of an Interventionist?

Three pathways encompassing an intersection of the established subspecialties of critical care and cardiology have been proposed as a training framework for an aspiring ‘critical care cardiologist’ by the authors in a recent article1.  However, focusing specifically on the skill set outlined in the article,  a different and accelerated pathway for duly trained and interested interventionists may merit consideration.   With additional training in end of life/palliative care, intubation skills and advanced ventilator management a interventional cardiologist may likely fill the shoes in a modern ICU better than cardiologists from other subspecialties, including even those with additional critical care training.

Among the skill sets outlined in1, accredited interventional training likely prepares an individual to the greatest extent.  Issues of vascular access, sedation management and escalation of vasopressors for ‘crashing patients’ are daily routine in a busy catheterization suite.  Point-of-care ultrasounds (POCUS) should enhance the armamentarium of every thoughtful interventionist to identify regional wall motion abnormality and direct appropriate revascularization in area of myocardial dyskinesis/’stunning’. Additionally POCUS helps identify tamponade expediently,as well as potential advanced valvulopathy needing urgent invasive intervention. Pulmonary artery catheter insertion, monitoring of the hemodynamics, and management has gained resurgence in the era of valvular interventions and percutaneous mechanical circulatory support(MCS) for cardiogenic shock.  Post-procedure care for revascularized patients is one of the most important lesson for Fellowship trainees, as is early identification, and directed action in case of development of complications. Being integral to a heart team2 for complex decision making also allows contemporary interventional trainees to be involved in complex decision making, and working closely with the surgical team. With more patients requiring complex interventions in contemporary practice-often with need for atherectomy of a dominant coronary artery, and those with advanced conduction system disease-transvenous pacemaker placement is increasingly performed in the Cath Lab. Also pacemaker placement during transcatheter aortic valve replacements (TAVRs) forms an essential step of the procedure enabling deployment of the valve.  Assessment of managing patients with acute coronary syndrome including interpreting EKGs to identify hemodynamically significant arrhythmias emergently is definitely in the ‘day’s work’ for most interventional trainees,

When looking at structured training, the the COCATS 4 document3 has outlined some competencies for a budding cardiac critical care professional-and recognizes the importance of cath lab rotations in forming the foundation of solid procedural skills. The only skills outlined as those outside the realm of a general cardiology Fellowship were ‘Skill to place intra-aortic balloon pump emergently’-which most interventional trainees become competent at, and ‘Skill to perform endotracheal intubation’-which in most tertiary care institutions is done by anesthesia-and interventionists may acquire competency with additional training.

The Acute Cardiovascular Care Association (ACCA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) have come-up with their own certification exam and a core curriculum4. In addition to the above, they have outlined need for identifying and appropriately managing renal dysfunction in critically ill patients. The focused interventional trainee gets ample exposure to preventing, identifying and treating acute kidney injury almost on a regular basis in this era of heightened awareness of limiting contrast, and contrast-sparing interventions. Also the document outlines the importance of early, aggressive and adequate treatment for pulmonary embolism(PE)-and most PE response teams across the nation are staffed and often led by an interventionist.

In summary, with additional training –interventional cardiologists, and those in-training, with appropriate interest should potentially be integral, and possibly in a leadership position in a critical care team of the future.

References:

  1. Miller PE, Kenigsberg BB, Wiley BM. Cardiac Critical Care: Training Pathways and Transition to Early Career. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019 Apr 9;73(13):1726-1730.
  2. Neumann FJ, Sousa-Uva M, Ahlsson A, et al. 2018 ESC/EACTS Guidelines on myocardial revascularization. EuroIntervention. 2019 Feb 20;14(14):1435-1534.
  3. O’Gara PT, Adams JE, Drazner MH, et al. Journal of the American College of Cardiology May 2015, 65 (17) 1877-1886.
  4. https://www.escardio.org/static_file/Escardio/Education-Subspecialty/Certification/ACCA/Documents/ACCA_Core_Curriculum.pdf . Last accessed April 19, 2019.
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Cardiac CT: The Future of Diagnostic Cardiology?

As a medical student eyeing the field of radiology, the science of imaging of was all too seductive.  Ultimately, a love for cardiac physiology won me over, but an interest in imaging lingered.  As it turns out, cardiologists are part-time radiologists with expertise in a number of cardiac imaging modalities.

CT has become the latest frontier in cardiac imaging with a number of useful applications.

By now, coronary calcium scoring is a well-established tool for risk stratification in subclinical coronary artery disease.  Cross-sectional imaging is also useful for evaluating pericardial thickening in restrictive cardiomyopathy.  Beyond these traditional applications, newer techniques are poised to change the way we use CT to evaluate heart disease.

 

Coronary CT Angiography

Using fast, EKG-gated scanners, coronary CT angiography (CCTA) is a noninvasive means to detect coronary anomalies and obstructive plaque.  CCTA is a sensitive tool for excluding coronary disease, with a nearly perfect negative predictive value in the ACCURACY trial1.  However, specificity is poor and the presence of stents or calcium degrades image quality.

The specificity of CCTA is improved with FFR-CT (HeartFlow), a noninvasive method that mimics invasive fractional flow reserve measurements.  Computational fluid dynamics are applied to a 3D model of coronary anatomy in order to simulate the hemodynamic effects of stenotic lesions.  The PLATFORM trial2 showed how these technologies can safely reduce unnecessary catheterizations with no detriment to outcomes.

 

CT Myocardial Perfusion Imaging

CT myocardial perfusion imaging is also possible.  Indeed, a key advantage of CT is the ability to combine anatomic and physiologic evaluation in a single study.  However, exposure to radiation and iodinated contrast is an important consideration when comparing this to SPECT imaging.

 

As our diagnostic tools multiply, cardiac testing will become less invasive yet choosing the right study will become more complicated.  Cardiology is a fortunate field that controls much of its own imaging, but with the emergence of cardiac CT, we will need to collaborate with our radiology colleagues to push our fields forward in tandem.

 

References:

1Budoff MJ, Dowe D, Jollis JG, et al. Diagnostic performance of 64-multidetector row coronary computed tomographic angiography for evaluation of coronary artery stenosis in individuals without known coronary artery disease: results from the prospective multicenter ACCURACY (Assessment by Coronary Computed Tomographic Angiography of Individuals Undergoing Invasive Coronary Angiography) trial. J Am Coll Cardiol 2008;52:1724-32.

2Douglas PS, Pontone G, Hlatky MA, et al. Clinical outcomes of fractional flow reserve by computed tomographic angiography-guided diagnostic strategies vs. usual care in patients with suspected coronary artery disease: the prospective longitudinal trial of FFR(CT): outcome and resource impacts study. Eur Heart J. 2015;36:3359–3367. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehv444.

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Preventive Cardio-Oncology: The Rise of Prehabilitation

Figure 1 Prehabilitation: optimization of overall health, wellness, and fitness prior to initiation of therapies that might adversely alter fitness, strength, quality of life, or function.

Figure 1 Prehabilitation: optimization of overall health, wellness, and fitness prior to initiation of therapies that might adversely alter fitness, strength, quality of life, or function.

As I near the end of my job search process and prepare to review offers and sign a contract, it is absolutely incredible to me to consider that I am completing training at just the right time for me in cardiology. While sitting in a preventive cardiology team room, I overheard two exercise specialists describing a project that they plan to present in several weeks at a national conference. I overheard them use the word ‘prehabilitation’. While the word is not brand new in their professional world or even in cardiology, at that time the word was novel to me. I felt excitement rise within me as I recognized the word ‘prehabilitation’ as a concept that I have envisioned for quite some time to be key to what I would like to achieve and develop in the emerging field of preventive cardio-oncology. As a senior cardiology fellow, my training has been particularly enriched in cardio-oncology (see CardioOncTrain.Com), preventive cardiology, heart disease in women, and precision medicine. I plan to have a heavy emphasis on prevention in my practice, and with eventual incorporation of maturing tools in precision medicine. If you too are interested in preventive cardiology and cardio-oncology, you may want to consider a combined practice of preventive cardio-oncology.  If you are also interested in heart disease in women, then you may want to consider preventive cardio-oncology particularly in women, e.g., women with breast cancer.  Yes, that is quite focused, but can be an incredible niche.  Yet, let us take a step back from the idea of preventive cardio-oncology in breast cancer or any other cancer and first consider how far we have come in the broader field of cardio-oncology.

In the burgeoning field of cardio-oncology, one could argue that we are doing quite well as a community with epidemiology and management of cardiovascular toxicities from cancer therapies. Our ability to completely predict cardiovascular toxicity in individuals is still in progress. Nevertheless, the field has come so far regarding what we now understand about pathophysiology, risk factors, and incidence of cardiovascular toxicity. In particular, due to the continuous and rapid innovation in cancer therapies, cardio-oncology continues to grow exponentially. If you are interested in or planning to join the field, now is a great time!

While the main focus in cardio-oncology has been on secondary and tertiary prevention of cardiovascular toxicity and its sequelae, an era is approaching that may focus even more so on primordial and primary prevention of cardiovascular toxicity. What if we could figure out ways to prevent cardiovascular toxicity before it even happens? What if we can even avoid development of risk factors themselves? These two questions point towards a focus on primary and primordial prevention, respectively. Indeed, for decades we have been focusing largely on secondary and tertiary prevention in Cardio-Oncology. Perhaps it is now time to focus more on what would appropriately be termed preventive cardio-oncology, a merger between preventive cardiology and cardio-oncology.

A hallmark of preventive cardiology has long been cardiac – and in fact cardiopulmonary – rehabilitation. This usually would occur in the setting of secondary or tertiary prevention. As such, ‘rehab’ generally has at least a few purposes. One purpose is to help individuals get back to the level of cardiopulmonary function they had prior to their cardiovascular event. A second purpose is to actually optimize their cardiopulmonary function, regardless of their original preexisting starting point, and help them develop a sustainable lifestyle modification program that can hopefully help prevent another event. A third purpose is to provide support and camaraderie that can help individuals regain the confidence they need to develop and maintain heart healthy lifestyle habits, by knowing they’re not alone in the process. For young patients, such as young adult women with spontaneous coronary artery dissection, this third purpose can be particularly beneficial.

Studies are now showing that cardiopulmonary rehab can also be useful in patients who have completed cancer therapy – in a sense as their ‘event’1,2. This is in part because cancer therapies can impact the heart, vasculature, and lungs, as well as other organ systems. In addition, while undergoing therapy for cancer, individuals often tend to lose fitness, energy, strength, and motivation for lifestyle modification, which is entirely understandable. Studies are therefore also showing that individuals who pursue exercise in the form of ‘habilitation’ while undergoing cancer therapies will also often have improved fitness and cardiovascular function and outcomes following the completion of therapy1,3.

Notably, newer studies are suggesting that exercise prior to the initiation of cancer therapies can further improve fitness, strength, quality of life, and cardiovascular function during or upon completion of cancer therapy1,4. This concept of ‘prehabilitation’ is catching on and will most certainly become a centerpiece and hallmark of primary prevention and perhaps even primordial prevention of cardiovascular toxicities.

Essentially, we need to recognize the impact and power of hysteresis, which suggests that the cardiopulmonary fitness starting point for a patient diagnosed with cancer will determine their cardiopulmonary fitness endpoint after treatment for cancer. This of course is intuitive, but not usually the focus early on in cancer survivorship. Since one in three individuals develop cancer in their lifetime5, it would be reasonable to recommend that all individuals optimize their cardiopulmonary fitness and prioritize lifestyle modification to ensure a desirable cardiopulmonary starting point if ever one is unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. If we take a step back, we realize that is quite similar to the argument for optimizing cardiovascular health in the general population. One in three individuals dies from cardiovascular disease each year6. It is therefore reasonable to recommend that all individuals optimize their cardiovascular health and prioritize lifestyle modification to hopefully help avoid cardiovascular events. When we view (i) cardiopulmonary fitness after cancer therapies and (ii) cardiopulmonary fitness associated with cardiovascular health in the general population through similar lenses, it becomes clear that preventive cardiology and cardio-oncology could potentially come together in an emergent subspecialty of preventive cardio-oncology.

For all individuals, the overarching goal is optimal cardiovascular health based on life’s simple seven: diet, physical activity, obesity, cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, and cigarette smoking, in the context of non-modifiable and also nontraditional modifiable risk factors. For individuals with cancer, who become survivors at the moment of diagnosis7, additional goals are preserving  strength, endurance, quality of life, and function.

To achieve long-lasting success in preventive cardio-oncology, we will need to consider three Ps: protocols, partnerships, and payments. In this hot new field of preventive cardio-oncology in which you and I might be trailblazing, together we need to develop standard protocols that can be used across the nation – and in fact across the world – to provide the best care for our patients. We will need Scientific Statements and Guidelines as the backbone of our practice. To facilitate evidence-based prevention, we will need a combination of retrospective, cohort, and case studies, as well as clinical trials. We will need to be sure to practice team-based care and forge lasting partnerships among clinicians, exercise specialists, and others in order to guide patients along gentle, individualized pre-habilitation, habilitation, and rehabilitation care plans. Importantly, relevant payment structures will need to be developed and adequately compensated by government, state, and private insurance.

An exciting path is before us Early Career folks in preventive cardio-oncology, as we shape the opportunity to practice in cardio-oncology from the perspective of primordial, primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention in women and in everyone.

 

References

  1. SquiresRW, Shultz AM, HerrmannJ. Exercise Training and Cardiovascular Health in Cancer Patients. Curr Oncol Rep. 2018 Mar 10;20(3):27. doi: 10.1007/s11912-018-0681-2.
  2. Lee K, Tripathy D, Demark-Wahnefried W, Courneya KS, Sami N, Bernstein L, Spicer D, Buchanan TA, Mortimer JE, Dieli-Conwright CM. Effect of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise Intervention on Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Women With Early-Stage Breast Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Oncol. 2019 Mar 28. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.0038.
  3. https://journals.lww.com/oncology-times/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2019&issue=02050&article=00014&type=Fulltext. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  4. https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2017/03/08/14/42/history-of-exercise-helps-prevent-heart-disease-after-breast-cancer. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  5. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/lifetime-probability-of-developing-or-dying-from-cancer.html. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  6. https://professional.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_503396.pdf. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  7. Rock CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, Meyerhardt J, Courneya KS, Schwartz AL, Bandera EV, Hamilton KK, Grant B, McCullough M, Byers T, Gansler T. Nutritionand physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA CancerJ Clin. 2012 Jul-Aug;62(4):243-74. doi: 10.3322/caac.21142.

 

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Fellow Focus: Peer Mentorship Program

During my first year of general cardiology fellowship, our program underwent an exciting transition – our incoming fellowship class increased from 6 fellows the previous year to 10 fellows in my class, nearly doubling the size of the fellowship. This growth was necessitated by the welcome addition of the West LA VA as a rotation site for house staff, which meant spreading our fellowship across 4 different clinical sites. While this gives our fellows the opportunity to train in a wide variety of clinical settings with different patient populations and pathologies, it also creates a very large fellowship program, with 30 fellows altogether. Although there are advantages to having a large program, a program this size poses the risk that fellows ultimately may not get to build the camaraderie that many acknowledge is a pivotal aspect of their medical training. Indeed, much of the education received during clinical training occurs through our peers.

At the beginning of my chief fellowship year, my co-chiefs and I chose to implement a new program within our fellowship to promote peer mentorship among our fellows. Inspired by an outstanding JACC article describing a peer mentorship program that was instituted in Columbia University’s Pediatric Cardiology fellowship,1 we created a similar program in which “Houses” were formed consisting of one fellow from each class. Each House would be led by its senior 3rd year fellow, who would also choose a faculty mentor for the group (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Schematic representation of the House system. Each pillar represents one “House” consistent of 3 fellows and 1 faculty mentor. Adapted from Reference 1.

Each House was advised to meet at least once each quarter, with each meeting organized by the senior fellow. Meetings were suggested to be informal, but discussion items, such as research opportunities, balancing family and fellowship, and exploring career paths, were recommended. Further, senior fellows were encouraged to take ownership of mentoring their respective 1st year fellows, particularly during the first half of the year.

After surveying fellows before and after the implementation of the House program, the results of the program were rather impressive. For instance, prior to the program, only 44% (4/9) first-year fellows said a senior fellow helped them during an early-year overnight call. Post-implementation, this number improved to 100% (10/10 first-year fellows from the next class). Further, first-year fellows were asked to assess their satisfaction with “Peer Mentorship” within the fellowship, and these ratings improved significantly after the House program implementation (Figure 2).

Figure 2: First-year fellow satisfaction for peer mentorship within the fellowship program.

Many more aspects were assessed in these surveys, as well as in surveys given to senior fellows and faculty members. These included measures of feedback frequency given by senior fellows and faculty on conference presentations and measures of academic productivity (abstract submissions to national meetings, peer-reviewed publications). While many other factors besides the House program may have contributed to the improved scores we observed on these surveys (perhaps even a placebo effect), the feedback we received on this program from fellows and faculty were overwhelmingly positive. As the program is far from perfect, we have found that it was easy to implement, sustainable, and effective at improving fellow satisfaction with our training program. As it continues into its second year, we hope that it will continue to improve, and more importantly, that it will further improve the fellowship experience within our program.

This past weekend, I shared our experience with this peer mentorship program with others as a moderated poster abstract at ACC.19 in New Orleans, Louisiana.2 For other large training programs looking for methods to improve peer mentorship, we believe our House system was effective and would be happy to share more details from our experience with those who are interested.

 

References:

  1. Flyer JN and Joong AN. Improving Peer Mentorship: A Novel Fellow “House” Program. J Am Coll Cardiol. 68:2907-10. 2016
  2. Hsu JJ, Flyer JN, Joong A, Small A, Vampola S, Yang EH, Watson KE. House of Cards: Implementation of a Formal Peer Mentorship System in an Adult Cardiology Fellowship Program. American College of Cardiology, Cardiovascular Training Section, New Orleans, LA. March 2019