Profile: Heart Rhythm Society President Dr. Anne Gillis

She may be the 34th president of Heart Rhythm Society (HRS), but Dr. Anne M. Gillis is the 2nd Canadian president ever chosen to helm the prestigious organization. HRS is a leader in the area of heart rhythm disorders and the primary information source for cardiac arrhythmia professionals and patients.

In this role, Gillis leads a group of 5,300 physicians, scientists, health-care professionals and industry members whose aim is to improve outcomes for patients with heart rhythm disorders through education, promotion of research and advocacy in this field.

“I’m honoured and privileged to serve the Heart Rhythm Society this year and follow in the footsteps of many extraordinary leaders in our field.” Gillis is a Libin member who’s also a Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

Until January 2011, she was the Medical Director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Program in Calgary. She is internationally recognized as a clinician scientist, who has published more than 160 manuscripts and 20 book chapters that have contributed to understanding mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias and treatment development.

Her research focus is on new treatments and therapies to prevent atrial fibrillation, a common abnormal heart rhythm disorder.

“The electrophysiology group here at the University of Calgary and Libin have a pretty high international profile,” says Gillis. Her collaborators at the University of Calgary include Dr. George Wyse, Dr. L. Brent Mitchell, Dr. Henry J.Duff, Dr. Robert S. Sheldon, and Dr. Derek V. Exner. Her research is also tied to Professor S.R. Wayne Chen’s breakthrough study on mechanisms of certain arrhythmias on the basic research front.
“I not only look forward to placing emphasis on international collaboration and expanding global membership, but also increasing our opportunities in areas of research and guideline development to further advance the quality of care of our patients,” she says of her HRS role.

Gillis with past presidents of the HRS at the group’s Annual Scientific Sessions in May (Photo courtesy of Todd Buchanan)

Gillis plans to remain true to HRS’s strategic plan where one of the main strengths is education. The group’s annual Scientific Sessions have been a flagship event and facilitates idea exchange between colleagues across the world.
Given the current research funding environment in North America has been incredibly tight and competitive, HRS established a new research committee to take a stronger leadership role in advancing the research agenda in heart rhythm disorders.

Gillis says she’s seeing HRS focus more on patient education tools. In her term as president, she’s working with patient advocacy groups and partners to improve education and awareness. For example, in a pilot project with the American College of Cardiology, HRS is working with Mended Hearts, a support group for patients who’ve undergone bypass surgery, to involve them with heart rhythm disorders, specifically atrial fibrillation.

“If that takes off, I can see us expanding that to many institutions, not just in the U.S. but globally.”

Gillis’ year as president will also see many public awareness campaigns launched from HRS; September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month and October is Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month.

“We have an audacious goal of ending death and suffering due to heart rhythm disorders but that’s not something a Society our size will achieve alone,” says Gillis. “The only way we will achieve that is by global collaboration and awareness of heart rhythm disorders. It will take the whole worldwide community to do that.”

After her post ends, Gillis will remain on the HRS board of trustees and chair the governance committee as well as the nominations committee to help select the next president. She plans on going on sabbatical the year after she finishes her presidency to spend a year at the University of Auckland’s Department of Physiology. She is discussing opportunities to work with the bioengineering group there and in relation, is also collaborating with Dr. Wayne Giles (former Dean of Kinesiology, University of Calgary).

When asked how she’d measure her success as president, Gillis replies: “At the end of the year, if we’ve been successful with clearly defined research goals and in establishing an energetic, focused fundraising campaign that enables us to fundraise for some research projects, if we are successful in expanding global collaborations and awareness campaigns, I will be happy that we achieved something.”

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