Other news - Friday, 7 August, 2020

"Our aim is to incorporate everything we represent into the minds of more and more people"

For his high-quality professional work in the field of healthcare, dr. István Kiss, professor and head of the Department of Public Health Medicine at our School received a Ministerial Certificate of Recognition on Semmelweis Day (6 July) organized in Pesti Vigadó. The professor has been the head of the department since 2013 and since then he has launched several changes and initiatives, including some spectacular ones as well. Looking back over the past seven years, he proudly lists what they have accomplished with his team and talks about how many tasks are ahead of them.


Written by Rita Schweier


- I am proud of the School's health plan, health program, which external observers have been able to see a lot recently, as well as of our professional successes. We are among the Excellent Authors with my colleagues and one of my colleagues recently won an OTKA tender as well. We are also doing well in terms of impact factors and the number of graduated PhD students. I am also satisfied with the staff of our department, although we still have difficulties in teaching in German. I am also happy that we were able to switch quickly and smoothly to home office, managed to hold the classes online, developed educational materials and the exams were conducted properly. All this shows that there are energies and reserves in us.

- How did you manage to recruit such a great team?

- I am not convinced that I am a very good leader but I have learned from my initial mistakes just to make others. / smiles - ed. / I have learnt that you cannot live up to everybody. I think it is good working in this department today and I hear that from my colleagues as well. The reason may be that we all take what we do seriously; we work with faith and enthusiasm, even if public health medicine and public health are still a neglected field. The coronavirus epidemic has shown how important prevention is and everything we are dealing with because if there is no well-functioning public health system, the world can turn upside down in a moment. However, chronic, non-communicable diseases are at least as important, if not more important – cardiovascular diseases or tumours - and we are unfortunately not doing well in preventing them.

- Due to the current epidemic, do you think it is possible that the role of public health will increase?

- I wish but I do not think it will happen quickly and automatically. What decision makers and people see is the need to be prepared for viruses. It is conceivable that all this will create a rearrangement within public health in the future and thus infectious diseases will also come to the fore but this is only an assumption. However, I am afraid that it will be difficult to make progress in the long term in key areas – cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

The changes that have taken place in the rethinking and transformation of vocational training can really help to raise the prestige of public health medicine. As a result, professionals working in public health can get closer to people and will finally be able to do an activity that an accountant or bricklayer has done so far by attending a weekend course and then becoming a lifestyle consultant. With a prior medical and public health medicine exam, it has so far been impossible to do so. We tried to emphasize the part of preventive medicine of this vocational exam. Until now, with this degree, it was possible to find a job only in the field of public health medicine, which has not been a very bright perspective for specialists since the termination of the ÁNTSZ (National Public Health and Medical Officer Service, NPHMOS) and its transformation into a government office because the office aspect has increased. However, if preventive medicine works, then it is possible to communicate with people, create an individual health plan and provide actual counselling. It could mean a real revolution and maybe one day it could also become a trendy profession.

- You regretted a few years ago that foreign students did not have a textbook. Has progress been made in this regard as well?

- There has been a change in that we are constantly creating digital learning materials for the recently established POTEPedia that will help the students’ preparation. In terms of learning, this is a much better, more convenient solution than a textbook, not to mention that it can be renewed and changed by reviewing it annually. By the way, our textbook in Hungarian can still be used, we can add novelty to it with what has been described in our lectures but in the long run we will not write a new textbook for Hungarian students either, we will rely on the digital platform in their case as well.

- Has the profile of the department in the field of research changed in recent years?

- Yes, it has become wider. One of the main profiles is still cancer research and related prevention, as was the case in the time of my predecessor, Professor István Ember. In addition to animal experiments and molecular biology studies, a number of other new areas of research have emerged: the development of smoking habits, mental health of medical students, urban health, health geography, historical health problems, and the study of biomarkers related to the health status of disadvantaged groups, especially the Roma population. Promising studies are being conducted with dogs who can hopefully contribute to the quick, early identification of certain diseases with their sense of smell. We deal with chemoprevention in animal experiments and cell culture, individual sensitivity to tumours in humans, there are extensive geno- and ecotoxicological studies and I would also add certain aspects of balneology here. The health effects of medicinal waters have been known for a long time but dealing with this scientific need is more recent. There is a working group in our department led by Professor Csaba Varga who are studying this in cooperation with spas.

- What is going on with your favourite topic: personalized prevention and related genetic testing?

- For a long time, many people thought that this was an uncertain field, but international, professional companies now increasingly recognize the legitimacy of this and see the future in it. However, this is only the future because it requires a lot of information. Earlier, legitimate fears stemmed from the fact that if we did not provide adequate and sufficient evidence to support certain genetic tests, it could have a misleading effect: what may be true of the Hungarian population may not be the case in the German or Chinese population. These genetic tests are increasing more and more, and I think we are moving in the right direction.

- Among the things you are proud of, first you have mentioned the establishment of the School’s health plan and health program, which led to the creation of a website. This is also referred to by many as a “great achievement” because it managed to address many people, it had a refreshing effect on public mood and, last but not least, it has drawn attention to you, to your activities.

- Fortunately, we have achieved our goal with it. Ours is a theoretical institute, not a clinic, but we also need to make our voice heard in the field of prevention, just as a cardiologist not only teaches his science but also cultivates it by healing patients. Fortunately, we can implement real, practical prevention activities in more and more projects. Many of my colleagues have external connections and are invited to give a lecture or hold a course on certain topics. The health plan is the platform that gives us the opportunity to show this at the School as well.

A very enthusiastic team is working on this at our department: its engine, the main organizer is dr. Andrea Horváth-Sarródi who also provides mental health counselling, in addition to her I would like to mention the dietitian Veronika Wolher who has a cooking course besides the many individual consultations. Important pillars of the health program are physiotherapist Adrienn Hanzel who is responsible for physical activity, dr. Erika Balogh who provides help with smoking, and Gergely Márovics who provides IT support within the department. In addition to them, several people write small articles for the website and we are also present on social media platforms. I am glad that more and more people from the School are working with us, either in organizing individual events or taking on long-term tasks. From time to time we organize various awareness-raising activities and programs, such as the Staircase run, the water challenge, or the online sports day, which also proved to be successful. For example, I also adhere strictly to the calls on our posters posted as part of our sticker campaign (the most prominent elements of which can be seen stuck up to the lifts) and do not take the lift. Today, there are more and more people who give positive feedback on our work and apply for our consultations as well. I am very happy that our activities are important not only to us, to ourselves, but also to the leadership of the School, they support us in everything.

- If I understand correctly, this is also one of your main goals for the future: to be actively present.

- It is quite certain, and our aim is to incorporate everything we represent into the minds of more and more people. This is a big challenge and if we only manage that people pay more attention in certain areas, such as facilitating a healthy diet, I already consider it a great achievement. 


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