May 31, 2024

Dr. Maria Abreu Named AGA President

Dr. Maria Abreu Becomes First Latina President of the American Gastroenterological Association

By: Lisette Hilton | May 31, 2024 | 6 min. read |

The director of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Crohn’s and Colitis Center will devote herself to professional gender equity and business models that respond to current practice needs.

Maria T. Abreu, M.D., director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center and professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, assumed the role of president of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).

Dr. Abreu is the first Latina to helm AGA, the 16,000-member professional association dedicated to eradicating digestive diseases. Founded in 1897, the AGA has more than 16,000 members worldwide who engage in the science, practice and advancement of gastroenterology.

“I am thrilled to pass on the baton to Maria. She is witty, caring and innovative. Whether on the dance floor or in the board room, she is sure to mix things up,” said immediate-past AGA President Barbara Jung, M.D. “I feel privileged to be her colleague and friend.”

Defining Success in Gastroenterology

Dr. Abreu is always thinking of how to make things better.

“I’ve given a lot of thought to the things that are highly important to our GI society for its continued success,” she said. “Success is measured by the success of our members and the ability of members to be productive, successful—not burned out but excited to be gastroenterologists.”

Challenging workforce issues include gastroenterologists who are leaving the profession.

“Professional societies, especially ours, have an opportunity to try to alleviate that burden by helping fight some battles, smooth some surfaces, so that everyone can have a better life,” Dr. Abreu said. “The solutions are multipronged.”

One of those prongs is the significant increase of female gastroenterologists, which Dr. Abreu said calls for being thoughtful about how to help private and academic practices offer adequate parental leaves and flexible schedules for physicians with young families.

AGA is already generating ideas for gender equity and also offers annual programming for women to develop leadership skills to help them run large practices, Dr. Abreu said.

Dr. Abreu’s aims to ensure both women and men in the specialty are armed with what they need to run private practices and points to the integration of advance practice providers (APPs) as crucial.

“A model that has surged in the last several years in medicine in general has been to have advanced practice providers—nurse practitioners or physician assistants working in a field,” Dr. Abreu said. “When they graduate, by and large, they are undifferentiated. They have a base of knowledge but not specific knowledge of a field, which in this case is gastroenterology or hepatology.”

Most advanced practice providers (APPs) are women and Dr. Abreu recognizes how standardizing training helps women practitioners in more than one way.

“The way it stands right now, most GI practices, even in academia, have no particular training plan in place,” she said. “We need to focus on how to train and get these APPs ready to take care of GI patients as quickly and effectively as possible.”

APPs, in turn, can alleviate office-based care backlogs, so gastroenterologists can focus on procedures, such as colonoscopies. Long-term care for chronic illnesses like Crohn’s and colitis are an area of particular need.

“These are patients that have the disease for a lifetime,” Dr. Abreu said. “In the absence of a cure, they need good care and monitoring, with someone they can reach out to if they have a problem. That’s a great use of APPs and a great opportunity for the AGA to provide the best training.”

Professional and Legislative Work

Dr. Abreu sees additional opportunities in reshaping Digestive Disease Week (DDW), the specialty’s premier annual meeting for gastroenterology professionals, and extending AGA’s political presence.

“DDW is a meeting that we share with other partner GI societies that also participate. We want to make it a more streamlined, dynamic experience for the participant,” she said. “After COVID, anyone could watch something on Zoom and get CME credits. This isn’t about that. This is about the full experience. It’s about having the time for the human interaction yet also making it purposeful so busy gastroenterologists can learn and not be stressed about attending.”

AGA is the only GI society that has a political action committee complemented by an active government affairs group that support officials who deal with the administrative burden of prior authorization with medication and screening colonoscopy coverage.

“These are long-lived projects on which we need to work methodically over years,” Dr. Abreu said. “AGA led the success in eliminating copays for screening colonoscopy.”

Dr. Abreu says her strength as a leader is her ability to connect with people and prioritize the greater good.

“I am able to work collaboratively to get something done. It isn’t ever about what I want for me but rather what is best for the group and finding alignment among people,” Dr. Abreu said.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Sandra Quezada, M.D., M.S., witnessed Dr. Abreu’s burgeoning leadership skills years ago as a gastroenterology fellow.

“Dr. Abreu was the first and only Latina gastroenterology attending I had ever met, and frankly, there haven’t been many others since then,” said Dr. Quezada, a co-chair of the AGA Equity Project. “Her energy, enthusiasm and authenticity as a strong Latina woman in the field was and remains absolutely inspiring and validating. She is paving the way for all of us and setting new standards for leadership in our profession.”

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