“You have to be ambitious and daring; nothing is innate”

Barrier-breaking Prof. Véronique Phé wins the 2021 EAU Crystal Matula Award

By Juul Seesing

The EAU Crystal Matula Award is presented to a “young promising European urologist aged 40 or under who has the potential to become one of the future leaders in academic European urology.” By winning this prize, Prof. Véronique Phé (FR) has taken her next step on the EAU ladder. It was only seven years ago that she won a European Urological Scholarship Programme (EUSP) grant, which gave her the opportunity to spend a one-year fellowship in the Department of Uro-Neurology at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and at the UCL Institute of Neurology, both based in London (GB). “This fellowship definitely changed my career,” she relates.

“It gave me the opportunity to create international collaborations, which have been maintained to this day, and to get to know fellows from different countries. I also learned humility while working in a foreign country and not to be afraid of ambition.”

Indeed, it was a milestone in her journey toward earning the 2021 EAU Crystal Matula Award, which was granted to her especially for her work in the field of neuro-urology and functional urology. She became the first female urologist to reach the academic position of professor of urology in France through her appointment at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris (FR) in September 2020.

“Becoming a full academic professor of surgery in France is extremely difficult,” she describes. “There are many requirements: from having recognised clinical and surgical expertise to being efficient in producing scientific publications; from having supervised teams to being a good teacher. Your academic projects and perspectives have to be exceptional. Understanding these challenging aspects also mean gaining maturity with time. In the end, you can imagine that it was even more difficult when you are a woman, mother, and born in a foreign country [Prof. Phé was born in Thailand, Ed.].”

Ongoing pursuit of excellence
Prof. Phé regards it as a “tremendous honour” to be presented with the EAU Crystal Matula Award. “It is the most prestigious international award for a young urologist. To me, it means that you have gained recognition from your colleagues both in your home country and at an international level thanks to work, determination, and integrity. These are the values that drive me in life. I believe in meritocracy. Winning the award delivers a positive message to all young academic urologists who want to pursue this pathway. The previous winners of the Crystal Matula have become established leaders within the field. This is a great inspiration for my ongoing pursuit of excellence.”

This pursuit of excellence will mainly take place in the field of neuro-urology and functional urology, where Prof. Phé’s clinical practice and academic interest is focussed on. “Strictly speaking, we do not save the lives of patients, but we alleviate their urinary handicap by giving them quality of life, autonomy, dignity, and self-esteem. I like to start from a complex clinical situation and dismantle it in a way that makes it simple, understandable, and solvent. Our relationship with a patient is strong, lasting, and also unique as it requires a result contract with them. I feel like I am useful and that I have done my duty when a patient tells me, ‘Thank you, doctor. I am living again’, or, ‘You have given me an acceptable life.’”

In answer to our question about her main goal for the future, Prof. Phé’s response is short but sweet: “Creating my own school of urology to share my surgical techniques, thoughts, and ideas across the world.”

Later she adds, “Teaching has always had my interest. I have been involved in UROwebinars, and I hope that one day I will be able to participate in the European Urology Residents Education Programme (EUREP) as a teacher.”

However, she already has a word of advice she would like to share with young urologists: “You have to identify your field of interest early and pick your curriculum as soon as possible, because the journey is long and strewn with pitfalls. You have to be ambitious and daring; nothing is innate. At best, you have a mentor who teaches you what they know, who helps you to the top, and who lifts you up when you have fallen down. Furthermore, I am convinced that hard work and integrity go hand in hand.”

“Young people should be encouraged to pursue an academic career in urology. This is essential for the sustainability of our specialty. This is one of the roles academic professors should fulfil. This must be done with benevolence while maintaining a high level of requirement.”