HomeVoteSecretary-Treasurer ▶ M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF
M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF


I am a professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. I received my medical degree from Stony Brook University School of Medicine and completed my training in internal medicine at Northshore University Hospital. I received my pulmonary fellowship training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital, where I also served as chief resident in the Department of Medicine. I received my critical care training at Northshore University Hospital.

In 1995, I joined the faculty at UNC and co-founded the first Multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Program in the country, a premier program that became the model for multidisciplinary care and defined the vital role pulmonologists play in the care of patients with thoracic malignancies. More recently, I founded the Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Screening Program at UNC and I continue to direct both programs.

I hold several vital leadership roles at UNC and for more than 20 years I have served national pulmonary and cancer societies, including the ATS, ACCP and the ACS National Lung Cancer Round Table, through numerous leadership roles and by sharing my time, knowledge and passion to advance the field of thoracic oncology. I was recently selected to serve as a member of the ABIM Pulmonary Exam Committee. I am the proud recipient of the 2017 CHEST Presidential Honor Lecture and the 2019 Assembly on Thoracic Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award.

As part of NIH/NCI funded research, I co-developed and serve as co-investigator of the North Carolina (NC) Lung Screening Registry, a statewide initiative to examine the delivery, quality and outcomes of lung cancer screening and evaluate the extent to which disparities in lung cancer screening outcomes exist. My ongoing funded research activities include a multi-institution pilot project exploring the presence of coronary artery calcification on lung cancer screening CT and downstream risk stratification and statin delivery, and exploring rural/urban disparities associated with biomarker testing in advanced lung cancer.

The ATS has been a major component of my professional identity since 1993. I have been an ATS board member, chair of the TO Assembly, chair of the TO nominating committee and member of the planning committee of the Clinical Problems and TO Assemblies. I served as a member of the ATS Finance Committee and currently serve on the Planning and Evaluation Committee and the Program Review Subcommittee. I have led or co-led multiple ATS workshops and statements. These positions and experiences have given me significant understanding and appreciation into the functions of the ATS. 

I am passionate and committed to medical education and mentoring and have received numerous awards at UNC including the Teaching Scholars Program, the School of Medicine Richard H. Whitehead Lecturer, the First Annual Pulmonary and Critical Care Division Faculty Teacher of the Year Award and the Latin Medical Student Association Inaugural CHARLA Lecture award. I am particularly passionate about developing the next generation of leaders and increasing the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in our field. 

I am interested in joining the leadership team because I believe I have the experience, skills and passion to enhance the mission of the ATS as a prestigious organization dedicated to advancing research, education, and advocacy in order to prevent and improve respiratory diseases on an international scale.

My vision is to work collaboratively to develop strategies to engage domestic and international members in health initiatives and advocacy efforts that address the needs of patients and health care providers in our increasingly complex health care environment. There are many driving forces challenging our vocation and I will work with our members to identify gaps in underrepresented areas that may benefit from additional support and resources, and to build programs that address the gaps. I will reach across the aisle to encourage and support early career professionals, especially those who may feel underrepresented, to get involved in this great organization. I consider mentoring the future leaders in our field, and of the ATS, to be a principal responsibility. I will promote the image of the ATS as an inclusive and diverse organization and advocate for improving representation of women and minorities. 

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

I am a recognized expert in thoracic oncology (TO) with years of leadership experience in multiple professional organizations. I have dedicated my career to service within UNC and professional societies, and in my community. I have been deeply committed to advancing the field of thoracic oncology and intimately involved in the process of forming and leading the TO Assembly at ATS.  One of my strengths is putting together multidisciplinary teams to accomplish goals. While I am driven and persistent, I consider myself very flexible, which compliments my organizational skills. I bring energy, intellect, and dedication to my work on professional committees and I am a passionate, tireless advocate for continued advancement of the field of pulmonary medicine. I possess self-awareness, motivation, integrity, empathy and great social skills and I believe these are tenets necessary to be a leader within the ATS.

I have worn multiple hats in academic medicine, clinician, clinical educator, clinical researcher and currently NIH-funded researcher. I believe I am capable of reaching across the aisle and relating to a diverse group of ATS members who may feel underrepresented, and helping to promote the image of ATS as an inclusive and diverse organization.

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

One of my strengths is the ability to work collectively and collaboratively with colleagues as equals to achieve stated goals which has allowed me to develop and maintain successful multidisciplinary programs at UNC.  I co-founded the Multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Program 25 years ago, an innovative program, which was the first of its kind in the country and the model for lung cancer care. More recently, I developed the Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Screening Program by bringing together a diverse group of physicians, nurses, and public health professionals.

I have and continue to be the UNC pulmonary division go-to-person for initiatives that require team building. I have a talent for building and fostering relationships based on facilitation of trust and mutual respect.

What would you identify as strengths of the ATS?

The many strengths of the ATS include:

  • Its national and international reputation as the premier respiratory society dedicated to advancing basic science and translational research, clinical knowledge, and advocacy to prevent and improve respiratory diseases on an international scale.
  • The quality of the journals.
  • The commitment and dedication of the staff.
  • The passion and commitment of its national and international members to promote global health initiatives and diminish disparities in care of respiratory diseases.
  • The openness and inclusiveness of the executive committee members when addressing challenges and proposing strategies for improvement.

What do you think the ATS should be doing at a higher level?

The ATS should take the lead in interdisciplinary collaboration and building partnerships among its domestic and international members and with other professional societies.  Collaboration among groups of people with diverse expertise who share their resources and their vision leads to less fragmentation and improved research and educational achievements. Much of health care is evolving into multidisciplinary care, and professional societies have the opportunity to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations, and pool resources, which can support research and expand the mission portfolio of individual societies. Developing programs that highlight and promote multidisciplinary collaboration and partnering among professional societies is challenging primarily because there are so many competing societies, and because equitable distribution of funds for research, health policies and educational content is met with complex barriers. I believe it can be done but breaking down these barriers will require innovation and collective commitment.

The development and implementation of effective programs to reduce misutilization in both research and clinical practice requires significant resources, including research and administrative support. ATS should consider taking the lead on interdisciplinary collaboration that can help improve problems of service misutilization.

What do you see as present and future opportunities for the ATS?

I believe with stronger effort and support we can enhance membership with individuals who represent a much broader scope of expertise. We already engage multidisciplinary talent in our many proposals that lead to official ATS statements, but we should be creative in ways to engage those individuals to become members of the organization to promote future research collaborations. We should take the lead on promoting multi-society statements which have the potential to reach a wider audience and have more impact on enhancing patient care and global health. We should continue to promote inclusiveness and enhance opportunities for early career members, including PhD scientists and clinical educators. The ATS, as one of the few medical organizations with regional chapters, is poised to enhance communication, dissemination of clinical knowledge, and recruitment of members. Optimizing the function of the regional chapters provides a terrific opportunity for ATS to reach members beyond the annual meeting and support lifelong learning, research collaborations, clinical practice, and professional development.

What are some of the threats you see to the ATS now and in the future?

I believe the ATS has struggled with the vision to expand its mission portfolio in order to represent the needs of a diverse membership and enhance individual engagement in the organization. Among the many challenges the organization faces as it develops a broader mission are the concerns that our basic and translational science colleagues are losing a home and how to sustain the infrastructure and financial stability of the organization. These are tangible concerns, particularly in an era where existing members can gravitate to competing societies if they feel underrepresented, future membership growth potential is limited due to competing sub-specialized societies, and in a health care market that is rapidly evolving and where members interests and needs are not static. Additional threats include the ongoing discussions requesting open access for published federal-funded research, change to the traditional journal subscription model, and the potential downstream financial stressors on our journals. 

What role should ATS play as an international organization?

Improving global health has been recognized as one of the most important achievements since the turn of the twenty first century. Because an overarching principle of the ATS is to improve global lung health, and over 31 percent of its members reside outside the United States, the ATS should maintain its position as a premier international organization leading respiratory-related research and clinical care worldwide. While the progress in global health initiatives has been largely driven by public-private collaborations and greater investment from national governments, commitment by individual societies such as the ATS to increase investments in health alongside passionate activism from its membership contributes to the overall mission of global health improvement.  

The ATS should continue to provide global education, research funding and training, and develop strategies to engage domestic and international members to participate in global health initiatives.

What should the ATS do for its membership and how would you advocate for the membership?

Members should feel connected to the ATS and empowered to participate and contribute to the mission. To improve member engagement the ATS should consider:

  • Continuing to expand the grant funding portfolio, and developing additional networking opportunities for early career investigators.
  • Increasing opportunities to engage fellows-in-training and junior faculty in ATS activities/leadership.
  • Adapting newer technologies to communicate with members, inviting feedback and questions.
  • Better communicating to the members the “behind the scenes” activities of the ATS, particularly in advocacy efforts, so that members appreciate what the organization is doing for them.
  • Inviting members to participate in advocacy efforts that address the needs of patients and health care providers in the increasingly complex health care environment.
  • Promoting participation and engagement of members in ATS regional chapter meetings. These meetings can provide a platform to disseminate the work of the ATS, promote research, and engage members.
  • Developing strategies to engage domestic and international members in global health initiatives, including research mentoring, education and advocacy.

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

For me, academic and professional success came with a renewed commitment to promoting and mentoring colleagues and learners in their career development. I became more aware of the need to advocate for other women and charged myself to focus on actively guiding and supporting the female faculty in my own division and department, particularly leading by example so that they may be the best version of themselves. “You can’t be what you can’t see” touches on a key barrier that women, particularly minority women face: a dearth of strong role models. Without visible and diverse representation in positions of leadership women, particularly minority women, in academic medicine may not seek out the research, educational and leadership opportunities. I am very proud of the role I have played in inspiring junior colleagues especially women and minorities.

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

I will turn over several administrative responsibilities at UNC that currently take up a considerable amount of time, and I will phase out of leadership activities within other organizations. I will schedule my clinical responsibilities accordingly so as to not interfere with the travel requirements outside of the international conference.


View Dr. Rivera's CV