Prof. Helena Canhão – ‘The’ Boss Rheumatologist

Prof. Helena Canhão

Authors: Dr. Bilal Zafar, Maria Rosa Ferreira, Inês Serra, Kashmala Khan

Prof. Helena Canhão, ambitious and committed to herself, didn’t want to become a doctor only. She also wanted to increase her knowledge about the human body. Nevertheless, she was a brilliant medical student at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. She also gained her PhD and Habilitation in Medicine from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lisbon and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Research from Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, USA. 

Endless Achievements of Prof. Canhão

Currently, she is serving as the Head of the EpiDoC Research Unit in Epidemiology and Clinical Research, CEDOC, NOVA Medical School, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal. Furthermore, She is also an Invited Full Professor at the National School of Public Health, a Full Professor of Medicine at NOVA Medical School, and Head of the Rheumatology Unit, CHULC- Hospital Santo António dos Capucho Lisbon. Prof. Helena Canhão’s achievements are endless. For instance, she is also a board member of the Council of Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, President of the Portuguese Society of Rheumatology, and co-leader and Chief Medical Officer for the Patient Innovation Project. 

Initially, didn’t like the medical school

Today, Prof. Canhão has numerous titles, awards and publications under her name. Back into the times when she was a medical student, she struggled for it. Undoubtedly, all her triumphs today are her dedication and hard work from yesterday. As a fresh medical student, Prof. Canhão anticipated active involvement in the hospital. To her dismay, learning was limited to the premises of classrooms only. Besides, she confesses not liking medical school in the first and second year. 

“I did not like the first and second year of medical school because we studied theoretical subjects without seeing their application to practice. Back then, I didn’t know the purpose of studying these subjects. It disappointed me. Clinical years were amazing. I could connect everything I was taught. In clinical years I knew medicine was the right choice.”

– Prof. Canhão

Fierce dedication brings priceless victory

The diligent personality of Prof. Canhão is programmed to achieve. Her achievements are a reflection of her fierce dedication to her field and her personal growth. In brief, she summarizes a part of her conquest as;

“I did an internship, specialization and then became a consultant. So now I am a senior consultant dealing with 2 units. I did a PhD and won an award. Later I moved to Boston for Harvard Medical School where I lived for 2 years. I did research at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. During the two years when I lived in Boston, I did clinical research involving patients but not clinical practice. I returned to Portugal, to the Faculty of Medicine, IMM and Hospital de Santa Maria and then I moved to NOVA Medical School 5 years ago. I continued my clinical career and at the same time we have set up a research centre that contains a clinical and public health research units.”

– Prof. Canhão

Investment of time and effort in research

She invested quality time in research. In addition, Prof. Helena Canhão has authored and co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and edited numerous books and book chapters in the fields of rheumatology, medicine, innovation and clinical research. 

“I always did research.” – Prof. Canhão

Being a doctor is not easy.

Being a doctor is not easy. There are times when doctors exhaust themselves on their way to end someone else’s pain. Prof. Helena Canhão also experiences time when managing family and work together is stressful. 

“Firstly we miss weekends and we work on holidays and New Year. These times are difficult. My husband is a surgeon. Sometimes it becomes distressing to manage kids, family and work at the same time. The problem with our work is that it is difficult to disconnect completely. As physicians we do a lot and hard work. This is not easy but at the same time it can be very rewarding”

– Prof. Canhão

Opportunities await you ahead.

Prof. Helena Canhão encourages young doctors to recognize the potential in their medical field. Medical field is a vast canvas where everyone has the liberty to choose their direction. Above all, you decide where you want to proceed with your interests and spark. 

“Being a doctor can have lots of different possibilities. You can be a future manager, future researcher, future professor, future surgeon, medical doctor or public health doctor. A doctor can work for a company or you can have your own company. You can be a small portion of all of these or just one of these with perfection. This is the beauty and richness of the medical field. We have our own choice.”

– Prof. Canhão

Key to succeed in this high responsibility job

Despite the burnouts and burdens, Prof. Helena Canhão continues reflecting on her timeless worth in her performance. According to her, studying, teamwork and effective analysis of a critical situation are the only ways to do justice with this high responsibility job.


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