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Interview: prof. dr. J.A. Romijn

prof. dr. J.A. Romijn

Area of expertise

Neuroendocrine diseases and diabetes mellitus.

Current position

Chairman, Board of Directors, AMC and dean of AMC.

Research interests

Regulation of hormone secretion and hormonal effects. Treatment and key long-term effects of hormonal disorders, especially those affecting the pituitary, and diabetes.

Publications

Over 540, including in Lancet, Nature Medicine, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Diabetes and Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Even before we sit down to start the interview, professor Romijn is the one who starts asking a question instead of me. He wants to know what kind of doctor I would like to become. I answer him honestly that I am really not sure yet and that I change my mind every internship. His advice is not to waste time on finding out. On his first day as an intern at the department of internal medicine, he applied for the residency program in internal medicine. At the age of twelve professor Romijn already knew that he would like to become an internist, just like his father.

How did your father inspire you to become an internist as well?

My father was a calm, modest man, and a good listener. I was very shy, so I thought that this would fit me as well. Now I even treat patients who were previously under the care of my father.

prof. dr. J.A. Romijn

What else have you considered to do?

I have considered going into music, since I played the violin. However, it is very difficult to reach a certain high level. As a student I have rowed at Nereus [Dutch rowing club]. After joining the competition, I have been a coach and even went to the world championships in Amsterdam and in New Zealand. That was an inspiring experience but not something I wanted to fill the rest of my life with.

Is it important for you to reach the top in life?

I want to do things properly and accurately. However, it is not important for me to be better than others. I am not a very competitive person.

What does inspire you in being a doctor?

As a doctor, it will always be about personal and face-to-face communication with patients. It is not possible for an individual doctor to increase the number of patients and seeing more patients during the same consultation. Above that, there is the biology of diseases, the interaction with the environment, and the different ways in which patients cope with the disease. It is an honor to be able to help patients. It has nothing to do with ‘being at the top’, but it is about being accurate. Medicine gives me the sense of satisfaction.

Do you want to continue working as an internist, in addition to your new function as Chairman and Dean of AMC?

Yes, it is important for me to continue seeing patients, because it was never my goal to become a professor or, -he pauses as if he has trouble finding the right word- chairman, he says. My aim was to become an internist. Somehow along the way I gained all these positions, but I was, and am still, very pleased with just being an internist.

Do you have an idea what important personality characteristics you have that made you been asked for these positions?

I am very careful in my interaction with people. I try never to stand in someone’s way. I do not feel the need to be better than others, so no one has to feel threatened by me.

So it is the modesty you have inherited from your father that has been your key to success?

I think that has played a role. And above that I am motivated and enthusiastic. It feels weird to say all this about myself.

When you look back on your time as student at the University of Amsterdam. How did you experience the internships?

It was a phenomenal, unbelievable period. It was a romantic, inspiring time that molded me into the person I am today. When I started the internships, I did not know precisely how to behave. During this period, you develop as a person. I was fascinated by all the different small worlds of every department, they appeared mini universes, the interaction between people, and the variations between the different specialisms. During almost every internship, I was filled with admiration: I for example, considered psychiatry and dermatology as being inconceivably interesting, but ophthalmology and surgery as well.

Many students seem to have a lot of stress and even symptoms of a so-called burn-out. They do not seem to enjoy the internships as much as you describe it. Do you recognize these feelings from your time as a student as well?

Life is not always easy. There is not even one person who is easy-going during his whole life. That simply does not exist, since life comes with ups and downs. There are people who are indecisive. However, the more you worry about things, the more you lose time, the more delicate you become. Many leaders do not doubt that much: they receive information, filter what they need and make a decision. They are probably less sensitive to suffer from these feelings of uncertainty. However, I consider it to be rather normal that young people feel insecure: your financial situation, relationships and future are uncertain. During the internships you behave humbly, because you are uncertain about your position, and about your knowledge. This may certainly cause feelings of stress. I always tell the doctors at my department that they should treat all interns with great respect. During the start of each internship, the interns feel uncertain and, the supervisors tend to forget that they are all very bright students. In the future these interns may be the bosses and they will treat us one day when we are patients in the hospital. That is a certainty we have. So you should always look into their eyes and find out what makes this student unique. Every person has something special.

How do you stimulate creative ideas?

Everyone has his own unique view; you should be susceptible to these views in conversations. In addition, you should ask questions and look for answers by talking to others and by reading the appropriate literature. A few times a year, an innovative thought comes to mind. You should indulge these creative impulses and follow these ideas.

 What keeps you motivated?

The interaction with colleagues and patients: giving positive feedback to each other. I would never be able to perform well if I would have to do it all on my own. In medicine, there is a sense of non-conformism. You receive a lot of honest, clear-cut, and positive feedback, eventually leading to self-reflection. It is a unique lifestyle, different from professions like for instance bankers or lawyers.

Do you always feel like a doctor, even once you are back home on the weekend?

No, once I drive back home, I set my mind to other things. I like recreational sailing or cycling. I live a peaceful life with my family back home. What was quiet interesting, is that as soon as the newspapers wrote that I would become the new dean of the AMC, people in my street suddenly started to greet me. I did not understand, because I had not changed.

That reminds me of the first day I read the news that you would become the successor of Marcel Levi. On your photograph it said ‘Capo di tutti capi’, but that disappeared within a day. Did you make up these words?

These words came from the professor of dermatology, professor Hoekzema, whom I personally know very well because he has been an intern with me. I met him when the news had just reached him. He joked by email that he would bow for me in the future, screaming the words: ‘Capo di tutti capi!’. Although I thought it was funny, it was removed from the website because of the negative association with the mafia.

What is your most important focus for the coming years as the chairman of the AMC?

The last years we have gone through enormous changes. We started using EPIC, and everyone should follow the rules of JCI to ensure patient safety. At the same time patients are changing as well. We are treating more complex diseases, in a more complex organization. Upcoming changes are the new bachelor program, renovation of a large part of the building and the coming alliance with VUmc. Those changes ask a lot from people. The coming period my job will be to lead people through these changes. To take peoples’ hands and bring a certain form of peacefulness. Reorganization is not about technical accomplishments but about humanity. Change inevitably gives stress to people, so my job is to create calmness and be kind and understanding to everyone.

Which core values of the AMC do you want to preserve despite all changes?

Respect for the individual values of people. We are not an army; we should motivate people intrinsically to change. That is an important but complex process. In the meantime, we also need to maintain focus on the best patient care, education, and research.

[headline_box text=”Résumé”]

1986-present      Internist
1990-1992           Postdoc at University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston
1998-2010           Professor of internal medicine and chairman of the Department of Endocrinology, LUMC
2004-2010           Chairman of the residency program internal medicine, LUMC
2001-2005           President of the Dutch Society of Endocrinology
2010-present      Professor of internal medicine, AMC-UvA
2010-2016           Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, AMC Chairman of Division A, AMC
2011-present       Editor-in-Chief of The European Journal of Endocrinology
2016-present      Chief executive, Board of Directors AMC Dean, Faculty of Medicine, UvA

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