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The future arrives for Gynaecology

Dr Henrique Nabais is head of the Gynaecology Unit at Champalimaud Clinical Centre. In this interview he talks about his background and the exciting future in his field, including how new robotic techniques are changing treatments.

  1. 22.4.2016

    The future arrives for Gynaecology

    Henrique Nabais is head of the Gynaecology Unit here at the Champalimaud Clinical Centre. We caught up with him to talk about his work and the latest developments in his field.


    What is your role at the CCC?

    I have been head of the Gynaecology Unit since 2013. Essentially, my work is divided into three fields: organisation of the gynaecological oncology unit, clinical work and, the aspect that makes this Foundation unique in Portugal, research.

    What did you do before joining us here?

    I completed my Gynaecology specialisation in Maternity Hospital Alfredo Costa and I worked with pregnant women who were HIV-positive or drug-addicted. When I had finished my six-year residency, I worked at the Lisbon IPO [Instituto Português de Oncologia – Portuguese Cancer Institute] for eleven years, more or less. After that, I worked in Luz Hospital. I started in 2006, before it even opened in February 2007, and I was there until 2011. I moved to the new Beatriz Ângelo Hospital, a public hospital, where I was coordinator of the Gynaecology Unit and the Breast Unit until I came to the Champalimaud Foundation in May 2013, essentially to create the new Gynaecology Unit here.

    Why did you decide to work with us?

    I think this Foundation is a unique project, certainly in Portugal, but maybe even in the world. It is unique because doctors here have the possibility to do three things: they have their clinical work of course, but they also have the opportunity, or even the responsibility, to do ongoing training and research. In other institutions or hospitals, there is little or no evolution. To do anything new is difficult, especially if you have to spend any money! Here, it is totally the opposite. Here, our administration encourages, no demands, that we are always innovating, training, learning. It is a great place to work for those who desire to constantly challenge themselves and I love it!

    What are the current challenges in your field?

    In this unit we have several key challenges. There are always new drugs, new treatments, new techniques that are available to patients here that, in some cases, are not available anywhere else in Portugal. At this moment, our main goal is the specialisation in the use of robotic surgery. Of course, for this you need lots of training and practice, which we receive both here in Lisbon as well as in other institutions. Just last week, for example, I was on a training course in Spain to practice new robotic surgical techniques. We have so many things to learn and do that I have to work and study at home, in the evenings, at weekends – it drives my wife crazy!!

    You mentioned robotic surgery. What role does this have in Gynaecologic Oncology?

    It is the future of surgery, eventually – certainly within the next twenty years, but probably sooner. It is easier, faster, more precise, so it is better for patients. I am in my fifties now, so I would not be spending my time learning this if I wasn’t confident in its application. At this moment it is very expensive, as procedures always are when they are new. But our role here as a medical foundation that prides itself on its position on the frontline of medical techniques, means that we are able to do these things with less concern about costs than would be the case in other institutions.  It is very exciting for us that we will start performing robotic surgeries in the Gynaecology Unit later this year, hopefully.

    How important is it for you to deliver personalised care to your patients?

    This term is very fashionable at the moment, very “politically correct” but most people, I think, don’t fully understand it. For me, personalised care is the adaptation of treatment to each patient. What does this mean? Nowadays, there are many guidelines to help doctors to know how to treat patients and these are important. But, each patient is different, so these guidelines need to be adapted and applied differently, if necessary, to each patient, depending on many different variables, such as age, pre-existing health concerns etc. So personalised care means adapting every day to the patients’ needs. We have a saying in Portuguese that “Medicine is Art” because translating your scientific knowledge for the needs of the patient is not easy, so you need to adapt your scientific knowledge, and this is truly art.

    The new surgical in-patient facility here at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown will open very soon. What changes will this make to you and your patients?

    The best aspect of this is simply the physical proximity to the patients. Currently, we perform surgery at the Red Cross Hospital, so I am constantly going back and forth between here and there. It means that it will be much easier for the patients and their families to speak to me directly. Of course we also have the patients’ rooms, overlooking the river, the bridge and the monuments in Belém.  But crucially, I have never seen better operating rooms anywhere in the world in my career, in terms of the space and the equipment available. I am almost afraid to touch all of this wonderful new equipment! Really, right now we just cannot wait to get started!  

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