Lazar Davidović, Chief Physician at the Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Clinic, is the new Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Belgrade. He will assume his duties on 1 October, and in his first interview with Kurir after his appointment, he said that it was a great honour and a duty for him.
A world-renowned medical doctor and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he also spoke about the coronavirus pandemic, the vaccines, and the time he had spent in Kosovo during the turbulent 1990s.
What does taking the helm of the Faculty of Medicine mean to you?
"This will be the crowning achievement of my professional career. A great privilege, a great honour, a great challenge, and a great duty."
Will you keep the post of chief physician at the clinic?
"I remain committed to my clinical work, but on 1 October I will put in a request with the Director of the CCS, Milika Ašanin, to be relieved of the post of chief physician of the clinic. I don't have the capacity to do two demanding administrative jobs. There are very capable people at the clinic who can be my successors. I have managed the clinic for 20 years and had more than enough time to do everything I had set out to do."
Is it difficult to be at the helm of a medical institution during the coronavirus pandemic?
"The operation of all surgery facilities was adapted to the new circumstances in March 2020. Vascular medicine is quite specific as, in addition to urgent patients, who need to be operated on immediately, there are also the so-called non-deferrable chronic patients, with very advanced chronic vascular conditions. Such conditions aren't urgent, but a delayed procedure would put the patient's life at risk. This is why at last year's end we were at 70 percent of regular annual work. Our anaesthesiologists and medical nurses worked at Covid hospitals and, seeing as we have about 200 staff, that had quite an impact on our everyday operations. On a related point, we have provided safe conditions at the clinic for both staff and patients."
Is the definite end of the pandemic in sight?
"The only way to solve this problem is vaccination. I cannot understand the non-professionals in the general public who are against vaccination, and still less the medical professionals opposing it. You know, although I'm a surgeon, I must admit that it isn't surgery that has saved the most lives throughout history. It is preventive medical measures – first and foremost the introduction of hygienically safe drinking water, and second, vaccines. So, it's vaccines, vaccines, vaccines. Thanks to the Serbian authorities, we have more than enough of them. We also have the option of choosing from among four vaccines. I don't know that many countries have that sort of privilege."
And yet, the anti-vaccine lobby is still strong and persistent.
"If someone has, say, a myocardial infarction or a malignant disease, I'm sure you'll agree that that poses a danger for them alone. However, if someone has an infectious, easily transmissible, potentially life-threatening disease, then that poses a danger not just for the person in question, but also for their surroundings. Therefore, vaccination is an absolute necessity. We live in the times of evidence-based medical science. There is more than enough evidence from both East and West that the vaccine is effective."
What has the coronavirus taught us?
"That we must appreciate our health much more, as well as the friendships that we have, and the natural environment in which we live. We must be more attentive to our immediate surroundings. If everyone does their bit, there will be less room for disruptions which may result in pandemics such as this one."
What will be the effects of the pandemic? What will we be left with?
"For the past ten years, I have been on the Executive Committee of the European Society for Cardiovascular Surgery [interviewer's note: Davidović was President 2016-2018] and I would give monthly talks throughout Europe. Whenever I saw people from East Asia wearing face masks at airports – and this was long before the coronavirus – I felt surprised. Perhaps this will be one of our everyday habits in the future. The fact is that we will have to take much better care of the basic hygienic measures which, although they may strike some as banal, are in fact very efficient. It's not just about face masks, it's also about hand hygiene, etc. Moreover, it's not going to be a problem for me to get revaccinated. Not just once a year – much more often, if necessary and if that is the solution for this nasty disease."
Is it true that, despite the coronavirus, foreign nationals' interest in specializations at our clinics hasn't flagged?
"In the past ten years, young people from more developed areas of Europe have been coming to our clinic for educational purposes. This is a great acknowledgment of our medical science and our institution, and perhaps the best possible advertisement at the international level. It is also one of the most significant things in my 20-year-long career being at the helm of this clinic. Currently, we have a medical doctor from Rome with us, and we already know who will be coming in the next eight months."
You have never wanted to leave Serbia?
"The reasons for that might surprise you. I'm a patriotic sort of person, however strange it may sound. I like this country, with all its flaws and shortcomings. I have succeeded in making a name for myself in my profession here. If I had gone to France or Italy – and I've had offers there – I would have had a higher salary, which isn't insignificant, but I'm not sure that I would have gained the same international reputation being a first-generation foreigner. You never know. At the end of the day, I had a duty to my parents as well, and I have many close friends in this country, without whom it wouldn't be easy out there. I haven't found a good enough reason to leave and work elsewhere."
In 2019 you were selected as a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences – only the sixth Serb to enter this institution.
"It is above all a great honour and privilege. It is certainly one of the few landmark events in my professional career, which I couldn't dream of back in 1977, when I started my medical studies. Leaving false modesty aside, I wonder if I have truly deserved it."
Work in Kosovo in the late 1990s
'We treated both Serbs and Albanians'
It isn't widely known that in the 1990s you went to Kosovo to treat people during a very sensitive time.
"Yes, the Clinical Centre's surgical teams went to Priština from Belgrade in 1998 and 1999. Two days after the bombing campaign started, Dragan Marković – who died of Covid in April 2020 – and myself were sent by the Clinical Centre to the Priština Hospital. We operated on all the wounded, regardless of whether they were our soldiers or Albanians. A couple of hours into our stay, we realized that the value system in place there was very different from the one where we had come from. It rested on four things: it's important to live, to get enough sleep, not to be cold, and to have something to eat. It may seem banal, but that's how it was. We had some interesting things happen to us too. I remember a soldier from Belgrade, some 18 or 19 years old, whose injured arm we had managed to save. When he came to, he asked, 'Sir, will I be able to do my job?' His friends started laughing because he worked as a shell game con man in the Tašmajdan Park. I told him that I was afraid he wasn't going to be able to. A couple of years later, I ran into him in Belgrade, near the Madera restaurant. He recognized me, rolled up his sleeve, and showed me his scar, so I remembered him straightaway. Incidentally, it makes me sad that it is only in recent years that the Battle of Košare has started to be brought up, that the general public is only now learning of these events…"