Dr Chiara Bucciarelli-Ducci, Consultant Cardiologist and Senior Lecturer

Not many of us can pin point exactly what inspired us to pursue a particular career or remember the exact moment of revelation, but for Dr Chiara Bucciarelli-Ducci, it was when she was 12 years old, during a school grammar lesson. She and her classmates were analysing a paragraph of text describing a cardiac operation, and that was it. She hasn’t looked back since, taking a medical degree followed by a postgraduate degree in cardiology and then a PhD in advanced cardiac imaging (Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI) before stepping into a consultant senior lecturer role immediately after her doctorate.

Today, she divides her time equally between two organisations: she is employed as Consultant Senior Lecturer in Cardiology for the University of Bristol and Consultant Cardiologist for the NHS, where she leads the Cardiac MRI Unit of Bristol NIHR Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit, based at Bristol Heart Institute in the Bristol Royal Infirmary. She is also co-Director of the Clinical Research and Imaging Centre (CRIC) Bristol — a state-of-the-art imaging and research facility run in partnership by the University and the NHS. In addition, she has honorary Clinical Senior Clinical Lecturer status at Imperial College London at the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), which sees her London-bound, usually once a week. Recently she was nominated to sit on the cardiac MRI specialist taskforce for The European Society for Cardiology, the largest professional body of cardiologists worldwide, and for whom she is the programme co-Chair for their conference both in 2013 and 2014. Incidentally, she is just 36 years old.

“I think I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” reflects Chiara, when considering her rather stratospheric career. “The field of cardiac MRI is relatively new and is growing — it’s only ten years old — but I have been involved in it from the start.”

The use of advanced imaging  in cardiology is an extremely specialist area. MRI scanners, used to take images of the body from any angle, have now been developed to take images of the heart – a constantly-moving organ.  Initially, these scanners were only used for non-moving body parts so early images of the heart were blurred. However the technology has now developed to allow clear pictures of the heart to be taken, enabling previously undiagnosed heart diseases to be identified.  As a result, cardiac MRI is having a significant impact on the practice of cardiovascular medicine.

“This is an important area of diagnostic cardiology,” said Chiara. “It has considerably improved the accuracy of disease diagnosis and has reduced the need for invasive tests and surgery, so patients now have a better experience all round.”

 “CRIC is an amazing facility hosting all sorts of researchers,” says Chiara. “It’s like a sort of ‘research hotel’ — researchers can use the scanner, our labs and our advanced software for image analysis, as well as our sleep laboratories and consulting rooms. CRIC staff are also on hand to help the researchers, should they need additional support.”

For Chiara, one of the most important aspects of her work in the University environment is that, outside the teaching hours, it is flexible, enabling her to manage her time and accommodate all her professional obligations. However, she does recognise that, at the moment, work is her principle focus, and yet she is clear on the need for that to shift in the future to encompass family life.

“I think that the balance between work and home life would be possible in the future, particularly given the flexibility of my work, and that I’m good at multi-tasking,” she said.

But it’s certainly not all work and no play for Chiara. A keen sailor and skier, she is a frequent international traveller, mostly for work, but she manages to combine this with other pleasurable pursuits. She is also a dab hand in the kitchen, where her time-management expertise comes in very handy.  “I can buy groceries and set up a dinner party at an incredible speed,” she smiles.

I think I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The field of cardiac MRI is relatively new and is growing — it’s only ten years old — but I have been involved in it from the start.

Dr Chiara Bucciarelli-Ducci, Consultant Cardiologist and Senior Lecturer

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