New ATS President Takes Collaborative Approach to Leadership

For ATS President M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF, leadership is not so much about occupying the seat at the head of the table; it’s about making room for a diverse cross-section of participants to facilitate innovation and collaboration.

M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF
M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF

“I love active participation,” she said. “And I have a talent for building and fostering relationships based on the facilitation of trust and mutual respect. So, for me, team building is critically important. We can’t do the big jobs without working collaboratively with teams.”

Immediate Past ATS President Gregory P. Downey, MD, ATSF, passed the gavel to Dr. Rivera on Tuesday during the Plenary Session at the International Conference. Dr. Rivera is the C. Jane Davis & C. Robert Davis Distinguished Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, as well as chief, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She also serves as an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the co-director of the North Carolina Lung Screening Registry. Dr. Rivera originally founded the Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Screening Program at UNC.

Dr. Rivera conducts research supported by the National Cancer Institute focused on examining the delivery, quality, and outcomes of lung cancer screening, evaluating the extent to which disparities in lung cancer screening outcomes exist, and evaluating the extent to which patient comorbidities and functional status impact lung cancer screening outcomes. She also serves as a consultant for the American Board of Internal Medicine for the Pulmonary Boards writing committee.

“Being president of the ATS is an immense privilege, but it’s also a responsibility and an opportunity to do the best job I can and to show others they can strive to do this.”

2023-2024 ATS President M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF

As the 2023-2024 president of the ATS, Dr. Rivera is looking forward to continuing to build upon the strategic framework of the Society with input from the Executive Committee, Board of Directors, staff, and members.

“We have developed a robust strategic framework that anchors the pillars of advancing scientific discoveries, advancing professional development, impacting global health, and transforming patient care,” Dr. Rivera said. “And that’s what we work collectively toward.”

Dr. Rivera has played many roles in academic medicine. She has seen firsthand how siloed groups can become even when facing the same challenges, so much so that they don’t always see common opportunities.

“I feel like I can reach out across the aisle and relate to diverse groups of members, particularly members who may feel underrepresented in this organization,” she said. “I’m proud of being able to support the strategic framework in that way. We’ve worked hard over the past few years to home in on what things we need to change to evolve the organization.”

One need identified during the COVID-19 pandemic was for more high-level educational content to be disseminated outside the national conference. As a result, the Learning Council was created, and a chief of learning was hired to achieve this.

The spirit of collaboration extends outside of the ATS, as well.

“We continue to strengthen our global footprint and to develop a better collaboration with our sister societies to find areas where we can align and collaborate to promote global respiratory health,” Dr. Rivera said. “If we come together as international societies, we have a larger voice to promote the importance of respiratory diseases and the impact of respiratory diseases globally, including COPD, asthma, and lung cancer, and the impact of smoking and air pollution on respiratory health.”

Dr. Rivera, who joined the ATS as a fellow in the early 1990s, is the first Latina woman to serve as the Society’s president, an accomplishment that she is proud of on behalf of women and minority groups.

“There’s a saying: you can’t be what you can’t see. Being president of the ATS is an immense privilege, but it’s also a responsibility and an opportunity to do the best job I can and to show others they can strive to do this,” she said. “Some people need to know that someone who looks and speaks like them, who has a similar background, or has had similar challenges, made it.”

Her role models include her mother, who taught Dr. Rivera the importance of recognizing when you must pivot to maintain forward momentum.

“I also have been fortunate to have been blessed with women colleagues throughout my career who have been supportive and inspirational, especially my research colleague, Dr. Louise Henderson, and my colleague, Dr. Lydia Chang, at UNC,” Dr. Rivera said. “These women are phenomenal at what they do and respectful and thoughtful.”

Past presidents of the ATS, including Juan C. Celedón, MD, DrPH, ATSF; Lynn Schnapp, MD, ATSF; and Marc Moss, MD, ATSF, also have shown Dr. Rivera what makes a good leader by being influential leaders themselves, she said.

“I’ve always tried to lead by example because I think if I do that, then others can try to be a better version of themselves,” she said. “If you see your leader doing something with passion and commitment, it may help you realize, ‘Hey, I have those ideals, as well.”

The path to leadership within the ATS starts by being active within the organization.

“Get involved,” Dr. Rivera said. “The ATS has so many opportunities for people early on in their careers, and being part of an organization opens up those opportunities.”

Don’t Miss ATS 2024 Highlights: On Demand

Don’t forget that ATS 2024 Highlights: On Demand are available to all conference registrants! On Demand will give you access to the Opening Ceremony, Plenary Session, Keynote Series, Clinical Year in Review, Adult Clinical Core Curriculum, and so much more. The topics will cover ILD, asthma, health equity, and CF, to name just a few. On Demand content will be accessible to all ATS 2024 full conference and On Demand registrants until March 2025.