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Interview: prof. dr. L.J. Gunning-Schepers

prof. dr. L.J. Gunning-Schepers

How did you benefit from being raised abroad?

Living abroad, for any period of time, is a rewarding experience. By seeing other cultures and their way of life, you discover your own preferences. And of course you develop an understanding for other ways of life. As for my personal career, my degree from Johns Hopkins gave me an advantage and lead in Europe, probably more than I realized at the moment.

Why did you choose to study Public Health?

While living in the United States, I saw great inequality between socioeconomic status and access to proper healthcare. An inequality that, in my opinion, was unnecessary. As I have always valued a fair healthcare system, that was the main reason for me to get in to Public Health.

Are your ambitions in Public Health realized?

As my studies were primarily more international oriented, I always thought that I would be working in developing countries. Looking back, I think I had a more ‘Dutch’ career. However, I am satisfied, as I believe I have still been able to realize many of my goals in Public Health.

Who was/is your role model?

I have had several role models. My promoter Paul van der Maas was a role model in my career. He was a great and demanding scientist. He always said: ‘if you want to do research, do it well.’ He taught me the importance of good research and how the sole purpose of research is generating new, reliable and valuable knowledge for the society. Els Borst was another role model, as throughout her whole career she put content first. You have the right to choose your own path in life, but aim to make a difference. And of course my father has been a role model in my personal life. He was ambitious in his work, but always able to combine it with family.

prof. dr. L.J. Gunning-Schepers

Do you believe in a glass ceiling for women?

At the beginning of my career I did not believe in a glass ceiling, but throughout the years I was surprised by some numbers. When I began my career, only 10% of the medical students were female. Therefore it is not surprising that 30 years later there were only 10% female professors. But as throughout the years the ratio started favoring female students, the ratio at the top remained unaltered. I do not think there is a glass ceiling for women, but I do believe that it is more difficult for women to reach certain positions.

Do you have advice for women starting their careers?

Do everything you can and want to do. Do not be scared to ask for what you want. And when you reach a certain position, make sure you also pave a path for the young ones behind you. In order to make it easier for them to follow you.

What are important personality characteristics for success?

I agree with Alexander Rinnooy Kan that optimism is very important. And the ability to put things in perspective. Another important factor for success is to grab your chances and not be scared.

What is most important in your life?

My family. I have a wonderful husband, two sons and four grandchildren.

What keeps you motivated?

I believe that if you put the effort and energy in creating something, anything is possible. As the CEO of the Academic Medical Centre, I would have a weekly visit of one of the departments, where we discussed content. As president of the University of Amsterdam, I did the same thing and by doing so I created a learning environment for myself. I listened to people being passionate about their work and they thought me things I newer knew. There are so many interesting fields and the benefit of my position is that I get the chance to learn from all these people. That has always been the base of my motivation.

How do you stimulate creative ideas?

Follow your passion and success will follow. You learn a lot by just formulating your ideas and trying to transfer them to someone else. I think that is why science is mainly based on a lot of talking about diverse subjects. And the reason why the academic environment inspires me.

What is/are the best book(s) you have read?

The most recent are:

  • The Hare with Amber Eyes
  • In the light of what we know
  • The narrow road to the deep north
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Who are you?

Louise Gunning-Schepers, born in 1951, finished primary school in Morocco and lived in the United States for several years, where I also studied Public Health.

When and where did you graduate?
  • 1973 Medicine Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
  • 1979 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
What is your area of expertise?

Social Medicine

What is/are your current position(s)?
  • University Professor Health and Society, University of Amsterdam
  • Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Schiphol
  • Crown member of the Social Economic Council
  • Member of the Supervisory Board, Het Concertgebouw
  • President, Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij Der Wetenschappen
What were your previous positions?
  • President, University of Amsterdam
  • President, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
  • President, Health Council
  • CEO and Dean, Academic Medical Centre Amsterdam
What are your research interests?

The health benefits of prevention.



  • Recipient award Europe et Medicine, 1995
  • Most powerful woman in Health Care, Opzij magazine

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