The thirst for knowledge, the fascination with research and the sense of mission are inherent qualities of João Bernardes’. He is principal researcher of the research group Charter: Challenges and Strategies in Health Research, of the TL1 – Preventive Medicine & Societal Challenges of CINTESIS, Senior Graduate Assistant at the University Hospital Center of S. João, Full Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and member of the management bodies of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP). (FMUP).
He was still a boy when he already knew he wanted to be a doctor. The choice was not alien to family history. His father was a specialist in Obstetrics, Sports Medicine and Public Health; and both his grandparents were doctors. One had his practice in Porto, and the other in the rural community of São João da Pesqueira. The latter was the person who inspired him the most. “He had to know about everything: public health, childbirth care, pediatrics, fracture treatment, dental treatment, autopsies, psychiatric cases. He was always available, around the clock; and would never charge any money. This social side completely dazzled me, it is the most romantic view one can have of medicine,” he recalls.
He was born in Porto, but grew up in Vila do Conde and spent many holidays in Alto Douro. He studied at the Liceu of Póvoa de Varzim. He was a roller hockey player at the Clube Vilacondense Gymnasium, where he was also an association leader in the days of April 25, which caught him “off guard” in his teenage years. He traveled across Europe using interrail with a tent on his back. He joined FMUP in 1977 and graduated in 1983. While he was still studying Medicine he was already helping with childbirth and C-section deliveries, at a time, when Portuguese maternal and child mortality were rather high. Nevertheless, the choice for Obstetrics came naturally, to the astonishment of many people.
“Some colleagues were surprised because I could have chosen any specialty out of those considered more elitist. Little did they know the evolution that Obstetrics would have. I never regretted it. Being an obstetrician is a privilege, but it is very demanding. There are high expectations on the part of everyone (the mother-to-be, the family, the medical team, society) and complex decisions need to be made quickly. It takes some courage. In the past there were far fewer resources, but today the practice of the profession is incomparably more difficult. Today we cannot fail. We have a sword permanently hanging over our heads,” he admits.
He completed his internship at the Hospital of São João in 1992. In 1993, he finished his PhD and became leader of an emergency medical team. In 1997, he became chief of laparoscopic/endoscopic surgery. “A real revolution that has made it possible to carried out more radical surgery in a less invasive and less aggressive way for patients. Today, this is common practice, but at the time there were a lot of obstacles. It was a brutal revolution in the way of providing assistance. We needed fewer beds and patients spent less time in the hospital. It was another romantic phase, when we felt privileged to be able to do admirable things.”
He was founder and director of the Biomedical Simulation Center of FMUP; vice president of the Portuguese Society of Medical Education; secretary of the Portuguese Society of Biomedical Engineering; and leader of projects of the National Board of Scientific and Technological Research and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology that led to the prototype and marketed model of the cardiotocogram analysis system called SisPorto.
After his period of research activity at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto (FEUP) and at INEB (Institute of Biomedical Engineering), he became member of CINTESIS, created by his fellow student and current director of FMUP, Altamiro da Costa Pereira. This made it possible for him to continue his research activity “locally, in a more functional manner”. Currently, he is principal investigator of the Charter Group, created to develop projects that address the complexity of the scientific, technological and ethical challenges that result from health research.
As Director of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics and Director of Medical Internship at the Hospital of São João he faced daily challenges related to hospital and academic management. He assumed similar roles at the Hospital of São Sebastião, Santa Maria da Feira, and the Hospital Pedro Hispano, in Matosinhos, where he was also a member of the Ethics Committee. He was a member of the Regional Commission for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent Health of the Northern Regional Health Administration (ARS-Norte) and is a member of the Disciplinary Council of the Northern Regional Council of the Order of Doctors. He is a member of the editorial board and reviewer of several indexed journals and has authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific articles.
Since 2017, he is president of the College of Gynecology and Obstetrics, where he had previously occupied a position of member. He is also national representative at the European College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (EBCOG). “It’s a very challenging position and one of the most interesting I’ve had the opportunity to develop. Our priority is to maintain the quality of professional practice of the specialty at the highest level, paying close attention to training, career development and forensic problems. We want to have the best specialists in the world,” he says, ensuring that there is no shortage of specialists in Portugal. “They are more than the European average and clearly sufficient, although only about half are working in the needy National Health Service (NHS),” he says. He certainly feels sad to see the Government’s lack of investment in the NHS.
Personally, he considers himself a doting father and an accomplished person with many plans for the future.
As a researcher, my top priority is to give due attention to the SisPorto group, which has several branches in CINTESIS. I want to look to the future with past experience and help this group to evolve as it has so far, in a very positive way. I see researchers who are very engaged, with fresh ideas, thinking about practical, clinical applications, and engagement with industry, making it possible to share technology advances more widely. Our knowledge can also be applied to non-obstetric areas.
I will be retired by then, but I will certainly continue to be interested in methods of analysis that can be applied generically to various biological signals. Over the years, we have accumulated many biological signals and clinical data that we would like to share more widely with the scientific community around the world, from rich and poor countries, who have not had the privilege that we had to be able to collect so much data, ensuring the protection and security of personal data. That will be my focus in the coming years.
Life Beyond Research
I like sports and outdoor activities. I have less time for conventional cultural activities. I love cycling, swimming two to three times a week, traveling. I can’t go to the beach without going to the water. I still have the skates and the stick with me.
I spend a lot of time with family and friends. It is good to be available to provide care when needed, as well as helping with household chores, telling stories, creating memories. I have great admiration for the caregivers who make out of this their main raison d’être, be it in family context, with friends or professionally. Is very difficult.