Q and A with Maayke van Sterkenburg, MD, PhD Fellow at AMC, Amsterdam
This month, we have tracked down a very talented young expert in the Achilles tendon field from Amsterdam, Maayke van Sterkenburg (27). Maayke studied medicine at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, graduating in 2005. After two-and-a-half years of rotations she finished her degree as a Medical Doctor. Maayke is currently involved in fulltime research as a PhD fellow in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam, focussing on all aspects of problems connected to the Achilles tendon.
What influenced your decision to study Orthopaedic Surgery?
When I was nine I visited a hospital with my mother and we passed a Neonatology ward. Being very young I was especially touched by the sight of these small babies and from then on set my heart on becoming a Neonatologist. While growing up, my enthusiasm for the neonatology ward did slightly diminish, but I never lost my ambition to become a medical doctor. Being interested in sport, competing in tennis and rugby, I felt strongly about discovering how the human body actually functions. My enjoyment of performing physical activity also led me to want to use my body and hands in my future profession instead of just my brain. As I progressed through med school I became more and more interested in orthopaedic surgery.
You moved around during the period of you research/Phd. What were the influences behind this?
At the end of their fourth year in college, all students do a 17 week research project. I not only wanted to complete my research in a field I was already interested in, but also incorporate some travel to explore whether I could start a new life in a foreign country. I contacted the Department of Orthopaedics at the AMC and ended up on the other side of the world (literally) living in Auckland, New Zealand for six months. My work included a project on ACL injuries in snowboarders, also giving me the opportunity to see some orthopaedic consulting and surgical procedures.
Looking back, I don't think that doing research received enough attention in college so perhaps we felt less inclined to pursue that avenue, but after my experience in New Zealand I became very enthusiastic. In the last months of my medical training as a doctor, I regained contact with Professor C. Niek van Dijk, who had been responsible for my research project in Auckland. We put together a plan for my PhD thesis, after which he then employed me to work in his department in Amsterdam.
What does your PhD focus on?
My PhD is based on chronic problems around the Achilles tendon. With clinical research we're working on optimising diagnosis and endoscopic surgery for conditions such as Achilles tendinopathy and Haglund's syndrome. Achilles tendinopathy can be a chronic problem, which is generally difficult to treat. The pathophysiologic mechanism behind it is still not entirely known, which makes it hard to prevent or to find a solution for it. Currently, when conservative measures fail, Achilles tendoscopy, and ultimately open surgical treatment, are the only options left. Some minimally invasive techniques have recently been developed, but the results are still not as good as we would like them to be. For a subgroup of patients with Achilles tendinopathy, we are trying to develop another minimally invasive technique with a different approach. For Haglund's syndrome, one of the projects I am working on is a paper investigating the value of radiographic diagnosis. This hopefully will be accepted for publication shortly.
As well as working on your Phd you have been involved with putting together a consensus book. What are the main aims of this?
I started off a year ago as part of the Achilles Tendon Study Group, working on a consensus on Achilles tendon ruptures. With an international group of experts, we gathered all our current knowledge on the subject and put together a book published by DJO. This was launched at ESSKA in May this year. We are continuing to work together on our next publication which will focus on 'Achilles Tendinopathy'. Ultimately I hope to incorporate some of the work on this next project into my PhD thesis.
With your career ahead of you, what is your ultimate goal?
Eventually, my goal is to become an orthopaedic surgeon. At this moment in my career I feel that it is important to see and enjoy every aspect of it, including research and teaching, so that in the future I will be best equipped and qualified to explore as many avenues as possible.
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