Dr. Paul Armstrong, OC, MD, has an amazing story to tell about the evolution of cardiovascular research and care.
“I am excited to share my story with the young people,” he says. “It’s a story about becoming committed to improving patient care, frustrated in my inability to address unmet needs and engaged in the many discoveries that followed.”
A clinician-researcher who is widely known as an expert in acute coronary disease, heart failure, and the development of clinical trials, Armstrong’s impact on patient care is vast — especially when it comes to emergency care for cardiac patients.
Career path cements commitment to research
Armstrong, a distinguished university professor with the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta, earned his medical degree at Queen’s University in 1966.
His career was shaped by further cardiology training at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and St. George’s Hospital in London, U.K. It was during those years that he cemented his commitment to research as a method for improving patient care.
“Both my patients and I had questions about their care that couldn’t be answered,” says Armstrong. “My mentors encouraged me to find the answers myself.”
Armed with knowledge gleaned from these experiences, including the very different approach to patient care he witnessed in London, Armstrong set out to do just that.
His first clinical leadership role was as the first director of the Coronary Care Unit at Kingston General Hospital. He later served as chief of cardiology at St. Michael’s Hospital before being recruited to the University of Alberta in 1993 where he took on the role of chair of the Department of Medicine.
Armstrong’s research contributions are vast. He has led numerous national and international trials, authored and co-authored more than 850 peer-reviewed publications, and served on the editorial boards of all major cardiovascular journals, including his ongoing tenure on the boards of Circulation, European Heart Journal, and the American Heart Journal.
He developed and directed the University of Alberta’s Canadian VIGOUR Centre (Virtual Co-ordinating Centre for Global Collaborative Cardiovascular Research), a research centre devoted to enhancing cardiovascular care through collaborations all over the world.
Building the future of cardiac care and research
In line with his desire to pass on knowledge to the next generation, Armstrong was the founding director of TORCH (TomorrOw’s Research Cardiovascular Health Professionals). The strategic training program included numerous partners, such as Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and a key collaborative role with Dr. Robert Sheldon, MD, who co-led the program from the University of Calgary.
TORCH inspired numerous young cardiologists to take on faculty positions at Alberta’s two major universities, sparking collaborations and contributing to the province’s excellent track record when it comes to cardiovascular research and care.
Looking forward, Armstrong says there are still many mysteries to solve and lots of questions to be answered. He is optimistic about the future of cardiovascular research in the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, but he says improvements will still only be possible through individuals who are resilient enough to learn from their mistakes.
“The potential for learnings in the future is quite exciting and extraordinary,” says Armstrong. “But you have to have the tenacity and thick skin to continue even when you have more failures than successes.”
Looking back over his distinguished career, Armstrong says it has been very fulfilling to be part of the evolution of cardiovascular care, which has taken great strides from his early days in critical care when few treatments were available for patients after heart attacks and the morbidity level was high.
“It’s been a fantastic story in which I have been privileged to play a part,” says Armstrong. “The joy of discovery and the ability to bring those discoveries back to patient care is a real privilege.”
In March 2023, he was the first Canadian to receive the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Cardiology. In 2017, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour.
He is also a recipient of the Research Achievement Award from the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, the Award of Merit from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and the Prix Galien Canada Research Award, which is awarded for significant contributions to pharmaceutical research in Canada.
Check out the Tine Haworth Research Day poster competition in the HRIC atrium on April 24.