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Women in Science Victor Chang Institute

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“I have always loved a challenge, and research allows you to ask questions and then find a way to answer them.”

Dr Nikki Bart is a practicing cardiologist at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney and a research fellow at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute . Dr Bart has a particular interest in heart failure and cardiac genetics. She completed a PhD at Oxford University as a Sir John Monash Scholar and then returned to Australia to complete her medical training in cardiology. Dr Bart has also just been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and is about to head to Harvard Medical School to further her research.  

Dr Nikki Bart in Lab | Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute
Dr Nikki Bart, 2020

Congratulations on you Fulbright award! What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

I have always found inspiration in my grandfather, Opa. He skied until he was 78, gave me my first stethoscope, and had a glass half- full attitude. My grandfather had bypass surgery and eventually succumbed to cardiac failure.  I have always loved a challenge, and research allows you to ask questions and then find a way to answer them. I love the idea that through medical research we can make a difference to the lives of sick patients. This is complemented in my work as a heart failure cardiologist, where I see critically unwell patients every day and need to make decisions based on scientific evidence.

What are some of the challenges you faced?

There are the challenges of workload, long hours, funding, grant rejections... the list goes on. The rewards of making a difference to sick patients make every challenge worth it in the end.

In your opinion, what’s the single biggest change that needs to happen in order to encourage more women to pursue careers in science?

Currently only 15% of cardiologists are women, and research shows that there is gender inequality in the outcomes of female patients presenting with cardiac conditions, particularly heart failure. This can be best addressed by training emerging female cardiology leaders. The same is true for women in science, where there is still a huge gender gap, and this is likely affecting outcomes in research because often we bring a different perspective. I think that the future generation of scientists need strong female mentors who encourage them to pursue their careers and support them during the process.

Dr Nikki Bart - Fulbright Scholar | Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

Who has been your greatest source of inspiration as a female in science?

As a researcher, I have been very grateful for the training and mentorship I have received from Professor Diane Fatkin. She is a world leader in her field but is also a patient, attentive and supportive mentor.  I have been very much inspired by her ground-breaking research here at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (VCCRI). 

I have also had the privilege of being mentored by Prof Anne Keogh who is a remarkable clinician-scientist and is a pioneer in the field of pulmonary hypertension. She was my supervisor for my first heart transplant project and has been a huge supporter of my career ever since. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?  

I hope to find balance of clinical medicine, research and teaching. I would like to have a leadership role as a clinician-scientist and work to solve some of the mysteries behind the causes of heart failure

Can you tell us more about the Fulbright Scholarship and what you hope to achieve? 

The Fulbright program is a research scholarship that allows for foreign exchange to the US, aimed at increasing binational research collaboration. I will spend ten months at Harvard Medical School researching a genetic first approach to treatment of amyloid heart disease. It is an absolute honour to be awarded such a prestigious scholarship. 

You and your Mum, Cheryl  were the first mother and daughter duo to climb Mount Everest. You have both climbed the tallest peak in each of the seven continents. Can you tell us about this experience and the role it has played, and how it has contributed to the work and person you are today?

Climbing Mount Everest and the Seven Summits has given me perspective about the incredible planet we are fortunate to inhabit. It has taught me about respecting my environment, working as part of a team in extreme conditions and challenging my own boundaries and expectations.


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