Dr. J. Mark FitzGerald never planned on being a respirologist, but in the early 1980s while working as a general internist in Lesotho, Southern Africa, for two years, he witnessed the devastation caused by tuberculosis and lung diseases and it changed his life’s direction.
“That made me shift my focus to clinical care for patients specifically with lung disease,” says Dr. FitzGerald, head of the Division of Respiratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and co-director of the UBC Institute for Heart and Lung Health. “And now my research focus is on clinical care and I’m into real-world research and changing outcomes.”
Dr. FitzGerald’s opportunity to make such real world change and improve the lives of individuals suffering from lung and heart diseases is expanding with his new appointment as director of the Centre for Heart and Lung Health, which is part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI).
At the Centre for Heart and Lung Health (formerly the Centre for Respiratory, Cardiac and Critical Care Medicine), a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, and other health professionals work together to make an impact on cardiac and respiratory health care. By working to prevent, diagnose, and treat cardiac diseases including congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, ischemic heart disease, and hypertension, as well as lung diseases such as lung cancer, asthma, chronic pulmonary disorder (COPD), sleep apnoea, and tuberculosis, the Centre aims to change outcomes for patients who struggle with these life-threatening conditions.
“Heart, lung, and critical care-related illness are a significant burden to the health care system,” says Dr. FitzGerald. “Heart- and lung-related illnesses carry the highest burden in terms of hospitalization and chronic disease in Canada. COPD is the number one cause of hospitalization in Canada, heart failure is number two, and asthma is number three. And lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.”
“Through the Centre for Heart and Lung Health, the opportunity to improve research at Vancouver Coastal Health in collaboration with our colleagues at St. Paul’s Hospital and other centres in B.C. and beyond provides the opportunity to significantly improve the health of British Columbians,” he adds.
To his new role as director, Dr. FitzGerald brings a notably strong history of successful collaborations locally, provincially, and nationally. He feels that creating opportunities for clinicians and researchers to work together toward improving heart and lung health in B.C. are a critical key to success.
“I think it’s very important that VCHRI and the Centre for Heart and Lung Health articulate a strategic plan for its internal development but also for the development of external collaborations under the framework of the UBC Institute for Heart and Lung Health, which have the potential to maximize what can be done internally but also contribute to better health in B.C. overall.”
Dr. FitzGerald is ready to help shape that plan and face the challenges that will inevitably come with the new role.
“If I look back at the work I’ve accomplished, every five to 10 years I pick a new challenge – I’m looking forward to the significant opportunities that this one will bring.”