Beyond the scientist: Carla van Herpen

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Where and when were you born?

I was born in Breda, as fourth and youngest child on the 25th of July 1964. When I was 7 years old we moved to Ulvenhout, where I grow up between the trees of the Ulvenhout’ forest.

Where do you live and with whom?

I live in Malden together with Jaap, my youngest son of 14 years. My daughter (Floor) of 21 and other son (Gijs) of 19 years live in Amsterdam and Tilburg.

Who was your role model when you were a kid?

My role model was Dr van Poppel, my ophthalmologist in Breda, when I was 9 years old. I had a lot of respect for him. He was calm, took good decisions and explained everything clearly. He was the reason that I took the decision to study medicine: at that moment I had a dream to become a very good ophthalmologist.

Why aren’t you doing the same thing now as your role model (or do you?)

Soon after I started medicine I discovered that I was not only interested in the eye, but that I was interested in the whole body, the whole human. Therefore I decided to become an internist. While being resident internal medicine, I was attracted by oncology and the patients, which had cancer. To treat patients with cancer, give and explain choices, talk about their fear, for example to die, and treat them in best way with innovative agents, gives me satisfaction. It is really a great challenge being a medical oncologist; it has coloured my life.

What is the thing in your (work or other) history that you are most proud of?

There are a lot of things I am proud of, especially, if we work closely in a team and achieve our goal. For example at this moment we work together with all Dutch Head and Neck Cancer Society centres and are performing a lot of studies.

In my youth I was proud that I started a small patisserie at home, when I was 14 years old. I baked approximately 10-15 cakes and apple pies each weekend and thereby, I earned my flight to a friend, which lived in Birmingham. I took the flight on my own and had a great time!

What is it that you would like to achieve in work in the next 5 to 10 years?

Recently, we have started the Nijmegen’ molecular tumorboard. This is a multidisciplinary group in which several disciplines are participating, such as medical oncologists, pathologists, tumour geneticists, clinical geneticists and pulmonologists. Based on detected mutations in tumours we offer patients the opportunity to participate in studies to get innovative targeted drugs. I hope this initiative will grow within the next 3 to 5 years.

For what can we wake you up?

You can wake me up to go on safari to Tanzania and observe the migration in April. This wish is based on a holidaytrip with my 3 kids in July 2014 when we went on safari and observed the end of the migration with hundreds of Serengeti’s wildebeests, large numbers of zebras and buffalos. Really amazing!

What is your hobby and how good are you at it?

Cooking, playing piano (I have a grand piano), skiing and making pictures. All at a normal level, but I enjoy it!

What is your biggest irritation?

I have hardly any irritations. Irritations lead to negative energy. As soon as I feel some irritation either I pay no attention to it, when it is of no importance, or I try to chance it by talking and acting.  (My daughter believes this is a Gandhi answer)

Who would you like to invite for dinner, if you had the chance? 

I would like to invite Michael Porter, an economist, researcher and teacher at Harvard Business School, where I met him. He talked about value based health care. During dinner I would like to discuss the best model for value based health care for rare cancers with him.


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