Walter Artibani: Urologist by chance

Mon, 14 Mar 2016

Walter Artibani, 66, is one of the EAU’s active opinion leaders and has served the organisation in various roles, most recently as Adjunct Secretary General for Science for eight years until last year. He is head of the Department of Urology at Policlinico G. B. Rossi and is a faculty member of the Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Integrata in Verona, Italy. Author of numerous scientific publications, he has received awards from various institutions and is the 2016 recipient of the Willy Gregoir Award, the highest honour annually granted by the EAU. Below are excerpts from a longer interview conducted during the 31st Annual EAU Congress in Munich.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a urologist?

Artibani: I didn’t choose to be a urologist when I was a medical student. My main goal was to become a neurologist and my motivation was my father who had multiple sclerosis. His disease started when I was three years old and he died just a year after I obtained my degree in medicine. So my main goal then was to become a neurologist and devote my life to basic research on multiple sclerosis. But I realized that this programme was too long and with the financial costs I decided to shift to a specific or focused surgical specialty. By chance, I deleted the “ne” and became a urologist.

But it’s a wonderful choice because urology is an amazing specialty, being at the same time a medical and surgical specialty. Urologists are in charge of all the pathways of the patient, starting with the prevention, diagnosis, medical treatment and sometimes the surgical treatment. I learned over the years that the medical part of urology is as important as the surgical part.

Q: Doctors always have a busy schedule. How do you avoid burn-out?

Artibani: Difficult and easy to answer this question because if you love what you do you will never burn-out. And every day is a joy for me to work and I feel privileged because every day I do what I like. Of course being a chief or a director, you have a lot of administrative burden and there are many things which you may not prefer to do, but this is part of the business. In general, 80% to 90% I do in a day, I really like to do. It’s like a personal vacation (laughs). Burn-out is related to a situation when you’re oblige to do something you don’t like.

Q: How would you convince a young doctor to specialize in urology?

Artibani: I would not try to convince a young doctor but would instead talk with him about the role of a medical doctor and the main aim to do the best for his patient. Being a urologist we may think that urology is the best, and a cardiology may also think that cardiology is the best, but I try to be open-minded. I would rather talk with a young doctor about the value of passion in his work, the value of life and professional honesty which is particularly important and sometimes can be difficult in an old continent such as Europe.

Q: What do you think are the obstacles in practicing medicine today?

Artibani: There is the huge focus on cost and cost-effectiveness and that is understandable. We have a real clash between the fact that to save one life is not commensurate to the costs needed to save that single life, and within a context wherein you have a choice to save a certain number of lives with a limited amount of money. This is difficult to solve from an ethical viewpoint. But as physicians we have the role to consider every single life important. There is some reduction today in the freedom of medical doctors, although I do agree that we need to have recommendations from so-called evidence-based medicine while knowing that the most basic and important questions do not yet have clear answers based on the evidence.

Q: What do you think should be emphasized in future EAU annual meetings? Are there topics you’d like to see examined more and in-depth?

Artibani: The huge challenge of a big annual meeting organized by a big society like the EAU is to try to have a good balance in covering all fields of urology, while providing a sort of roadmap or module to those who are interested in specific topics. This was something I already raised when I was an ex-officio part of the Scientific Office. For instance, if one is only interested in bladder cancer he can follow all the scientific production in bladder cancer the following day, as if it is just a meeting focused on bladder cancer. I know this is rather difficult because you have so many conflicting topics. But then in a way a meeting will be more attractive because nowadays there are people who are only interested in one specific area in urology. Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid overlapping in topics, but this could be a goal for future meetings.