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Frans Debruyne receives special honour at anniversary-themed EAU22 Opening Ceremony

The EAU’s third and oldest surviving Secretary General, Prof. Frans Debruyne was singled out for his contributions to the EAU during its 50-year existence. The Belgian-born but Netherlands-based Prof. Debruyne held a senior position within the EAU since the late 1980s, but it was “his” 1990 Annual Congress in Amsterdam that began a new era for the EAU: one of professionalisation, independence and great growth. He was the Association’s outspoken and greatly-respected Secretary General from 1992 to 2004.

With a much-delayed return to Amsterdam after 32 years, the EAU Board is honouring Prof. Debruyne (80) with a bronze bust that will be placed at the EAU’s Central Office in Arnhem. The sixth and current EAU Secretary General, Prof. Chris Chapple hailed the accomplishments and reputation of his distant predecessor. “This is a landmark occasion to emphasise the enormous contribution that Prof. Debruyne has made in terms of taking the EAU to greater heights than anybody could possibly imagine. It’s been amazing, having first come to an EAU Congress in Amsterdam in 1990, that I can see the EAU as it is now, as a world-class organisation which has led the way in terms of publications, science underpinning that, and Guidelines defining the application, and that is for a large part thanks to the efforts of Frans Debruyne.”

In order to preserve the surprise, we spoke to Prof. Debruyne shortly before EAU22 to ask about how he felt about the Association’s milestone and his role in its successes.

Does a “Golden Jubilee” like the EAU’s mean anything to you?

It’s fantastic to see what the EAU has accomplished. I’m mainly proud of the professionalism of organisation, and its contribution to the improvement of urological care in Europe and other parts of the world. There has been a huge improvement in care in the past fifty years.

I’m also proud of European Urology and the Guidelines, those are really our main contributions and the jubilee’s pearls!  The Association’s biggest growth came after my retirement as Secretary General, I think mainly thanks to its professionalisation.

I was there practically from the start. As a young assistant urologist in Nijmegen in 1973, my boss said a new urological society had been founded, a rather closed club that he was not interested in joining. I was there at the second EAU Congress in Prague (1976) and then again in Monaco (1978).

Do you think the EAU in 2022 has anything in common with the EAU in 1972?

No I don’t, it’s developed so much in the meantime. At its founding it was a friends’ group, a couple dozen highly esteemed Professors of Urology and Department heads. Now it’s a professional medical association. Certainly, there were some ideals even then, such as involving urologists from both sides of the iron curtain. But was there an outspoken mission like improving care? Not really, I think for a large part the early association reflected personal ambitions.

Quality of care, treatment guidelines, patient information and so on, none of that was on the founders’ minds. It was about standing on stage, proclaiming personal successes. You could say that, like medicine in general, the EAU as a society has gone from eminence-based to evidence-based.

How do you see your own role in this professionalisation and growth?

Sometimes, when I used to travel outside of Western Europe to events, I would be introduced as the “father of the EAU”, suggesting I was somehow its founder. But that’s clearly not true and I always correct them! I think my role in the EAU’s history can be summarised as a matter of enthusiasm: my urology department, my clinics, they also grew in stature and size under my leadership. It’s my enthusiasm and spontaneous ambitions to make urology big.

I remember a time when urology -and this upset me- was considered the ugly duckling of surgery. The least competent surgeons were sent to urology. I loved urology, I thought it was the best surgical branch there was! I always felt like the underdog, fighting back, and that’s what drove me, my whole career. ‘We’ll show those arrogant surgeons!’

I always felt the EAU should be professional, independent and well-structured. Am I a man who can forge relationships and bind people to me? Yes. Am I someone who can hand over great responsibilities to people without keeping an eye on them? No. I always kept on top of things.

Was it a conscious desire, growing the society? I don’t recall that being an outspoken ambition or mission of mine. I certainly wanted the EAU to be bigger than the established European national societies of the time. I had ties with Central Europe since the 1980s, and I spoke a lot of languages. I enjoyed travelling and meeting people. I noted that there were a lot of dedicated and skilled urologists in Central and Eastern Europe. When the iron curtain came down, I felt we should involve these people in our association.

You may be not the founder, but how would you describe your role?

Perhaps the constructor! The architect of the modern EAU.