Professor Liesl Zühlke is the focus of our fifth in a series of interviews in Cardiology in the Young entitled, “Global Leadership in Paediatric and Congenital Cardiac Care”. Professor Zühlke (nee Hendricks) was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She would attend medical school in her hometown at University of Cape Town, graduating in 1991. Professor Zühlke then went on to complete a Diploma in Child Health at College of Medicine in Cape Town followed by completion of her Paediatric and Paediatric Cardiology training in 1999 and 2007, respectively. She would subsequently complete her Masters of Public Health (Clinical Research Methods) at the University of Cape Town, completing her dissertation in 2011 on computer-assisted auscultation as a screening tool for cardiovascular disease, under the supervision of Professors Landon Myer and Bongani Mayosi.
Professor Zühlke began her clinical position as a paediatric cardiologist in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007. In this role, she has been instrumental in developing a transitional clinic at the paediatric hospital, is a team member of the combined cardio-obstetric and grown-up congenital heart disease clinics, each of which are rare in South Africa, with very few similar clinics in Africa. Professor Zühlke would continue her research training, completing her Doctorate at the University of Cape Town in 2015, with her dissertation on the outcomes of asymptomatic and symptomatic rheumatic heart disease under the supervision of Professor Bongani Mayosi and Associate Professor Mark Engel. In 2015, in affiliation with the University of Cape Town and the Department of Paediatrics and the Institute of Child Health, she established The Children’s Heart Disease Research Unit, with the goals to conduct, promote and support paediatric cardiac research on the African continent, facilitate Implementation Science and provide postgraduate supervision and training in paediatric cardiac research. In 2018, she would subsequently complete her Master of Science at the London School of Economics in Health Economics, Outcomes and Management of cardiovascular sciences. Professor Zühlke currently serves as the acting Deputy-Dean of Research at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.
Professor Zühlke has achieved the highest leadership positions within cardiology in South Africa, including President of the Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa and President of the South African Heart Association. She is internationally regarded as a leader in research related to rheumatic heart disease. Professor Zühlke’s work includes patient, family and health advocacy on a global scale, being involved in the development of policies that have been adopted by major global organisations such as the World Health Organization. In addition to her clinical and research efforts, she is highly regarded by students, colleagues and graduates as an effective teacher, mentor and advisor. This article presents our interview with Professor Zühlke, an interview that covers her experience as a thought leader in the field of Paediatric Cardiology, specifically in her work related to rheumatic heart disease, Global Health and paediatric and congenital cardiac care in resource-limited settings.