Van Poppel: Champion of education and patient involvement

An interview with the Frans Debruyne Lifetime Achievement Award winner

By Loek Keizer

The 2020 winner of the Frans Debruyne Lifetime Achievement Award was Prof. Hendrik Van Poppel (Leuven, BE). The award is given for longstanding and important contributions to the activities and development of the EAU. Prof. Van Poppel most recently served on the EAU Executive as Adjunct Secretary General responsible for Education (2012-2021), and as Chairman of the European School of Urology (ESU) before that (2004-2012). We spoke to him on the occasion of his retirement from the EAU Executive and receiving this honour from the Association.

When and how did your involvement with the EAU start?
Then-Secretary General Frans Debruyne approached me when I attended a Davos winter symposium in 1997. I obviously knew Frans, who did his Medical School at my University in Leuven, beforehand from the EORTC GU group where he was Chairman for a couple of years and I was Treasurer. He invited me and engaged me in EAU teaching activities like Tenerife, Davos, and various ESU courses. He started the Guidelines Initiative with Bernard Lobel and Claude Abbou, where I got appointed in the Prostate cancer panel. I started to participate in the EBU-organised ‘Rome course’ that the EAU would transform into the current, fantastic EUREP, organised every year in Prague.

How do you look back on your time as Adjunct Secretary General?
I started under Per-Anders Abrahamsson, with Chris Chapple, Manfred Wirth and Walter Artibani in 2012. I quickly realised how the EAU really functioned, and I learned to value the hard work of a wonderful team of motivated enthusiastic people in the Central Office, professionally managed and coached by Executive managers Jacqueline Roelofswaard and Maurice Schlief. I felt it was like working together as a group of friends in the many face-to-face meetings and in up to three hour-long video-conferences.

As Adjunct Secretary General for Education I had the privilege to work with my great successor as ESU Chairman, Joan Palou, who together with EAU Education Office Manager Jacobijn Sedelaar-Maaskant did not really need my supervision but regularly came up with critical points to discuss in order to expand and strengthen the School’s educational programme to the big well-oiled machine that is has become since. I also cherish the privilege to have worked with EAU Guidelines Office Chairman James N’Dow (and Guidelines Office Manager Karin Plass) who in no time restructured the Guidelines Office and upgraded it to where the EAU Guidelines are today: the best evidence-based urology guidelines in the world. I am also pleased to have been able to support him in allowing his Office to receive the financial support its work deserves.

I look back on the privilege of working with EU-ACME chairman Rien Nijman and EU-ACME office manager Beata Adamczyk who successfully elaborated on the EU-ACME system where he increased not only the numbers of participants among our members but also the quality of the educational sessions of the EAU. I was also privileged to work with EUSP chairman Vincenzo Mirone and EUSP coordinator Angela Terberg at the Scholarship program (EUSP), who defended and secured financial support from our treasurer for an expanding number of short visits, fellowships, and fostering collaboration with other organisations.

Last but not least, I look back fondly on working with Michiel Sedelaar who successfully integrated the ESRU into the Young Urology Office, investigated the undergraduate curriculum, steered the YAU and started a training initiative for future academic leaders in urology.

Will you remain involved in urology in the coming years?
When looking at other successful professional organisations like ESMO, I started to pay more and more attention to the involvement of the patients and their empowerment through their patient advocates and patient coalitions. Throughout Europe, many of these patient groups are well established for GU cancers, much less for non-oncological urological diseases. This is how we founded, with the help of Patient information senior coordinator Esther Robijn, the EAU Patient Advocacy Group (EPAG) where the major European patient organisations became members, like ECPC, EUomo, World Bladder Cancer Patient Coalition (WBCPC), International Kidney Cancer Coalition (IKCC), the World Federation for Incontinence and Pelvic Problems (WFIPP), the European Reference Network eUROGEN and others.

With Thorsten Bach and Esther Robijn the Patient Information Initiative (PII) was born: a group of young volunteers that spent their free time to adapt the Guidelines into lay language suitable for patients, and also to translate them into many European languages. The PII also features a number of absolutely superb animated videos. Together, EPAG and PII can start to increase patient involvement in our educational activities, something we are exploring at the moment.

The second issue to receive my attention in recent years is influencing policymakers, raising awareness of Urology and GU cancers in Brussels in the European Parliament and pressing the European Commission on the need of early detection of prostate cancer in well-informed healthy men. Patient support is crucial if we want to gain political support for our efforts to decrease the number of men that die from prostate cancer in the EU every year (i.e. 107,000 men). The aim is to get prostate cancer in the European Commission’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, as led by Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. So, I am committed in the coming years to further elaborate and prepare the instalment of a formal EAU Patient Office and I will be devoted to EAU’s European affairs by leading the EAU’s newly-created EU Policy Office.

What are your thoughts on winning this award?
You will join previous winners like Francesco Montorsi, Per-Anders Abrahamsson and Laurent Boccon-Gibod: I am very much humbled when I see my name added to this list of remarkable and globallyrenowned scientists and experts. I see there are two former Secretary Generals, and only one Adjunct Secretary General, so I am the second to receive this award in that function. And the third Belgian… Many others would deserve a Frans Debruyne Life Achievement award, and I am really honoured and most pleased to receive this award, with the name of the Godfather of the modern EAU, and… a good friend of mine, Frans Debruyne.