HomeVoteSecretary-Treasurer ▶ Irina Petrache, MD, ATSF
Irina Petrache, MD, ATSF


I am a professor of medicine at National Jewish Health (NJH), where I have served as the chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine since 2015.  I also hold an appointment as professor in the Department of Medicine and the Pharmacology Graduate Program, University of Colorado, Denver.

I received my MD in 1992, at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest, Romania.  Driven by a quest to pursue excellence in medicine, I immigrated to the U.S. in 1993 and completed residency training in Internal Medicine in1996 at Saint Luke’s Hospital/Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, followed by fellowship training in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  As junior faculty at Hopkins and a KO8 awardee, I investigated mechanisms of lung injury and endothelial function in acute lung injury and COPD under the mentorship of. Augustine Choi, MD; Skip Garcia, MD: and Rubin Tuder, MD. In 2006, I was recruited to Indiana University, where I built a research program in COPD, focused on mechanisms of emphysema pathogenesis. During that time, I became the Calvin English Professor of Medicine and served as vice chair of research in the Department of Medicine.  Since joining NJH, I continued my research on approaches to enhancing distal lung cell injury repair in emphysema and of mechanisms of pulmonary vascular remodeling.  Our research findings have been reported in more than 100 original research peer-reviewed publications in top journals in the field. Throughout my career, I have passionately dedicated my efforts to mentoring trainees, assuming leadership roles on individual and institutional training grants, and to patient care, either in the ICU or attending in the sarcoidosis and COPD Clinics.

My research accomplishments have been recognized by election into the ASCI and the AAP; the IUPUI Research Frontiers Trailblazer Award; research patents leading to the Harrington Scholar-Investigator Award; and appointments to the LIRR Study section and as Associate Editor at AJP-Lung.  It was also a privilege to be acknowledged for my mentoring and leadership activities with the ATS’s Elizabeth Rich Award and by the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Fellowship.

I have been a member of the ATS since I was a fellow, and for almost 25 years my professional journey has been closely intertwined with and bolstered, by my involvement with ATS.  I was honored to be named an ATS Fellow in 2019.  Being a member of several assemblies, I call RCMB my home, having served as member and then chair of the RCMB Program Committee and of the RCMB Assembly.  Another highlight of my ATS service has been chairing the International Conference Committee for three years, an activity that involves connecting all segments within and outside the Society to ensure a successful Conference.  My knowledge of the functions of ATS was furthered by my work on the Education, Finance, Publication Policy, Scientific Advisory, and the Research Strategy and Science Core Committees.  I currently serve as director of the Association of PCCS Division Chiefs.  Some of these roles encompassed my participation on the ATS Board of Directors, where I had the privilege of direct interaction and collaboration with the ATS Executive Committee.

My experience as a physician scientist, coupled with my commitment to service for ATS, have brought me to the readiness for and the desire to be an ATS Officer.  My research program, funded for over two decades by the NIH, the VA, and foundations (including the ATS), focuses on mechanisms of lung injury driven by bioactive sphingolipids, pulmonary vascular biology, and emphysema pathogenesis.  Our work led to the discovery of promising novel targets of therapy for patients with COPD, such as a monoclonal antibody targeting endothelial injury and inflammation in emphysema, and novel applications of alpha-1 antitrypsin treatment.  As a researcher, I have a deep understanding of the importance of scientific exchange fostered by ATS to propel discoveries in our field and advance one’s career. 

As clinician, I have first-hand knowledge of the needs of patients and health care providers, current advances and challenges of medical practice, the need for advocacy and input in  public health, and the importance of educating the next generation.  I assumed leadership roles in the T-32-funded training programs at Indiana University and the University of Colorado.  Furthermore, my dedication to education was rewarded with opportunities to lead several prestigious meetings such as the Gordon Research Conference, Aspen Lung Conference, and the Respiratory Disease Young Investigator Forum. These experiences allow me to better appreciate the needs of our  junior members and the opportunities we can create for career development within the Society.

For the past 5 years I have served as chief of the largest division at NJH, with more than 80 faculty.  I took the helm of the division at a time of great transformation in all aspects of our academic mission.  These changes required extensive recruitment efforts that increased the diversity of our division in terms of gender, race, career stage, training background, and career focus.  As emphasized by 360-evaluations, my strengths as a leader include my ability to develop an inspiring vision that aligns with that of the institution; my direct communication style and adherence to principles of transparency, fairness, collaboration, and inclusion; and my passion for problem solving.  Recently, I was thrilled to be part of the institutional response to the challenge of the pandemic and to experience the importance of leadership and teamwork during moments of crisis.  This experience reaffirmed my desire to contribute, in a leadership capacity, to the betterment of all the aspects of health and academic mission, including that of the ATS.

Throughout my career I found a second home at ATS where the impact of teamwork, diversity, passion, and commitment are embodied in all its activities.  As outlined in my biosketch, I have had the privilege of serving in multiple roles at ATS, where I have learned from its leaders, members and staff how to better serve the mission of ATS and the needs of our members.  In almost all my activities at the ATS I have learned the importance of diversity within the organization; the essential need for connectivity to patients, peer organizations from the U.S. and the world; and the obligation for providing advocacy.

My vision for the ATS is to be the most trusted and progressive respiratory society in the world, that is closely connected and responsive to its membership needs.  I believe that a strategy that addresses short- and long-term goals of the organization with continued input from our members, commitment to diversity, and full dedication to foster the next generation of expert clinicians, educators, and scientists in our field, are essential elements towards achieving this vision.  Implementation of advances in communication, increased advocacy, and strategic collaborations with international and national organizations will increase the impact of ATS as a leading force in respiratory science, clinical care, and public health.  With the commitment and talent of the current ATS leadership, membership, and staff we are well positioned to achieve this vision. I would be honored and thrilled to have the privilege of being elected to be part of this team.

What qualifies you to be an ATS officer and what personal leadership qualities would you bring to this role?

My training and experience as a physician, scientist, and administrator, coupled with my commitment to ATS have prepared me to be an effective leader and serve as an ATS officer. Through my scientific and mentoring contributions, I have attained the recognition and respect of colleagues and trainees nationally and internationally, most of whom are ATS members. Furthermore, I share with the ATS members principles that have guided my career; that as clinicians we have an obligation to ensure that all patients receive outstanding care, that as academics we have an obligation to advance knowledge, and as educators we have to secure a better future for our trainees. These shared values will enable me to pay it forward and represent the ATS members on the Executive Committee. My leadership is characterized by creativity, inclusivity, and a positive, engaging style. As a leader, I am committed to achieving results and progress by pursuing a clearly outlined strategic vision that aligns and unifies key stakeholders.

The ATS Executive Committee works collaboratively to direct the ATS; can you describe how you have worked collaboratively to accomplish leadership?

As ATS International Conference Committee Chair, I have worked in close collaboration with the program committee chairs, with ATS staff, and with the ATS Board to achieve the International Conference goals. As a testament to my effective collaborative leadership, I was the first ICC Chair able to engage the necessary support to improve the structure of the abstract categories used for programming. Respect and transparency, patience, and open-mindedness are some of the important skills that I use as a leader in order to bring people together to solve problems while recognizing and mitigating unintended consequences.

What would you identify as strengths of the ATS?

Through its commitment to research excellence including the publication of top specialty journals, its immediate response to emerging and threatening health crises such as the vaping epidemic or the COVID-19 pandemic, and commitment to developing academic careers, ATS is indisputably the premier respiratory organization in the world. ATS has remained committed to its core values while adapting to the changing nature of membership, with increasing representation of expert clinicians, clinician educators, and allied health professionals; bolstering the involvement of PhD scientists; and engaging in advocacy and relationships with patient organizations. ATS has a forward-thinking Executive Committee and a dedicated and hardworking staff that maintain the institutional memory of vision, strategy, and culture.

What are the biggest challenges you see for the ATS?

First, the ATS has always faced the challenge of a disproportionately high reliance on the International Conference for the Society's financial stability. The threat of IC cancellation became a reality. This challenge highlighted the ATS's resourcefulness and ability to adapt to this crisis by testing new approaches to more aggressively design strategies, ensuring fiscal stability and growth. Second, we need to address the challenge of bias and racism that pervades all aspects of professional life, and ATS has an opportunity to assist its members with resources to address these problems, while leading by example. Third, burnout is an active threat to engagement and professional performance, including in the Society, and ATS can provide leadership and resources in alleviating this occupational health condition.

What should ATS do to address the needs of its heterogenous members?

The Society must evolve with the nature of its members, by recognizing changes in the field. By staying a step ahead of identified needs, ATS should promptly design strategies that highlight the value of being an ATS member. These approaches should include focused and interdisciplinary strategies that allow PhDs, physician scientists, trainees, clinicians, educators, and allied health care professionals to stay engaged and to collaborate.

How can ATS promote engagement and opportunities on an international scale?

I believe it is more important than ever to connect with our colleagues throughout the world. By including international members in our activities, initiatives, and leadership we are diversifying and therefore strengthening our Society. Since we live in a world where science, health, diseases, and the threat of climate change have no borders, the achievements of ATS can only be enhanced by international participation and collaboration.

What could the ATS do to become more nimble?

I believe that organizational agility is influenced by its leadership vision, transparent communication, and an inclusive structure that enables change. This requires a strong interaction between ATS leadership and membership to change existing strategies as necessary and to implement initiatives in a timely and impactful manner. Embracing a culture of change in order to achieve membership goals will be essential to a progressive and transformative Society.

Can you give an example of a leadership accomplishment of which you are particularly proud?

My service as a leader of our institution during the onset of COVID-19 pandemic has been the silver lining during this time of crisis and hardship for our people. I found myself selflessly engulfed by an urge and duty to help the organization, to protect our patients, faculty, and staff, by a desire to be present, and excitement to provide creative solutions to ever-emerging threats and problems. I am proud to think that I have contributed to the success of our faculty and institution by providing purposeful and safe clinical care and testing, and generating and sharing knowledge during the time when the world around us seemed to be, at least temporarily, devoid of direction and hope.

Provide an example of how you have led or managed change in the past (within your organization or within ATS).

I joined NJH as chief of the largest division in our institution at a time of great transformation and helped implement changes at multiple levels. Shortly after my arrival, we made significant changes to the way budgets were administered, and a new clinical compensation plan was implemented, followed several years later by a new research compensation plan. All these changes, together with a significant expansion of clinical and research enterprise in our division were a threat to the morale and productivity of the faculty in my division. I believe that through effective, transparent, and collaborative leadership, we have thrived and have grown the division, attracting and retaining a superbly talented and diverse group of faculty.  

How do you envision making time for this new leadership role?

My various roles in the Society that required interaction with the Executive Committee made me appreciate the time required to be an effective ATS officer. Several previous commitments, including my six-year tenure as an NIH study section member have come to an end. In addition, through the support of my institution and the ability to delegate some of my day-to-day responsibilities to the experienced Divisional Executive Committee team, I will have the time to effectively serve the ATS.


View Dr. Petrache's CV