Interview with Prof. Franco Franchignoni – ISPRM2021 Awards

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Prof. Franco Franchignoni has recently received the Herman J. Flax award which was established by the International Rehabilitation Medicine Association in honour of Herman Flax who provided outstanding leadership to IRMA and his specialty throughout his long career as an academic physiatrist. 

ISPRM continues this award to honour individuals with a lifetime of outstanding and unique contributions to the care of individuals with disability and the specialty of physical and rehabilitation medicine. (View full list of awardees)

F. Franchignoni profile

Our Newsletter (News&Views) Editorial Board member, Dr. Hans Reitman interviewed Prof. Franchignoni:

REITMAN: At the last conference (ISPRM2021), you were honoured with the Herman J. Flax Award. A great recognition for your work in our beautiful profession. What was your first thought when you received this recognition from your peers?

FRANCHIGNONI: I was –at the same time– amazed, honoured, touched, delighted and grateful. This award is the most significant and memorable event in my professional career! For that, I have expressed my gratitude to ISPRM President and President’s cabinet, the members of the Awards and Nominating committee, and particularly Walter Frontera who has masterfully chaired the committee, Alain Yelnik who proposed my candidature to this Award, and Jorge Lains who supported that candidature.

Thinking about in my career and my links with ISPRM, I am proud to be member of and serve ISPRM since about two decades, starting from the small support I gave to the unforgettable friend Haim Ring for the Prague Congress 2003. In addition, I thank all colleagues and friends who supported me and contributed in different ways to my professional growth and shared with me many projects, work and positive outcomes, inside ISPRM, European Academy of Rehabilitation Medicine, UEMS PRM Section and Board, and European & Italian Societies of PRM. 

Looking back at my (always no profit) activities, I identify three leitmotifs: 1. the editorial work, not just in the Board of international journals, but also aiming at producing (together with a lot of outstanding colleagues, including Levent Ozcakar) high-quality books to distribute for free or at low cost, all over the PRM world;  2. the (long, complicated and delicate) work inside scientific committees of important international PRM congresses, in order to give participants the best possible updates in our discipline; 3. the collaboration with international research groups working on different protocols (mainly outcome measures), with the common aim of the quality improvement in our clinical practice and research.


REITMAN: Herman J. Flax was a great example for many in Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, also a poet. Where do you see the similarities with yourself?

FRANCHIGNONI: H.J. Flax was a giant who contributed to build PRM at world level, I just hope having added a small brick to that PRM building, with my different professional activities.

Some similarities between us might be related to our personal interests: travelling, reading and collecting. However, he donated his wonderful rare book collection to the Virginia University, while I just gave my (limited) collection of medical books to hospitals and universities. The main alikeness between us is probably the curiosity about many facets of life and the interest in studying and understanding many different fields, starting from their roots. Finally, I also like to write about non-medical issues, although I am far from being a poet, as professor Flax was.


REITMAN: You have achieved a lot in the PRM. That is why you have been recognised in this way.

What are you most proud of from your work in the PRM?

FRANCHIGNONI: Generally speaking, I am proud of the gratitude of my patients, of the esteem of my pupils, of the sincere friendship of those colleagues who are also my best friends.

In particular, I am pleased and thankful for the many opportunities I have had –during my professionaI career- to meet, share opinions and collaborate with many important colleagues (including some outstanding ISPRM Presidents) who honoured me with their friendship. Then, a special thank to two great friends – Jorge Lains and Xanthi Michail. We three have done a lot of things together and now we are in the organizing committee of the ISPRM World congress in Lisbon, next year 2022. Please save the date and see you there.

Overall, I would compare my professional career and achievements with an armchair of the beginning of the XVIII century (Regency style in France), with four legs connected with a shaped X-form stretcher. Its structure reminds my four inter-connected pillars of my professional life, related to my clinical, research, educational and editorial interests. The result is something simple, comfortable, and robust in the long term. Nothing amazing, just (hopefully) a bit useful.

REITMAN: What are you most proud of having achieved outside the PRM world?

FRANCHIGNONI: Of course, I am proud of my family, friends, house, hobbies and collections, as well as of my social and charitable activities. However, I am also pleased with many key decisions taken during my professional life: thanks to the culture and support given by both my late parents and my family, I have always refused ways, trade-offs, fringe benefits, and commitments not in line with my ethical beliefs and way of life. I would say that I have always been interested in serving more than in appointments, in being more than appearing.


REITMAN: Can you tell us something about your hobbies or leisure activities?

FRANCHIGNONI: My leisure activities are manifold (“the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time!”): I like to travel and read books related to culture, art, history, geography and cartography of different populations, to “try to be” a handyman (in both house and garden tasks), to have regular physical activity (walking and biking), to listen to music (from classical to pop rock of the ’70-‘80s), and finally to visit antique dealers and flea markets. Indeed, I sometimes joke saying I am a middle-level physiatrist, but a skilled connoisseur in several fields of art and antiques.


REITMAN: What is currently another important goal for you to achieve within PRM?

FRANCHIGNONI: I am just in my first 45 years as physiatrist, and I plan to go on with new projects, if blessed by health. The next project I would like to realize is as follows: to help creating an open-access repository of PowerPoint presentations of keynote lectures held worldwide in the recent years (science evolves fast), in international PRM congresses and courses. Of course, there is the need of collaboration between several international PRM bodies, but I think that such a bank of best-quality presentations could represent an important general source of physiatric knowledge: visual material engage scholars and help them to better retain information.


REITMAN: And what would you still like to achieve outside your medical specialty (e.g. privately or socially)?

FRANCHIGNONI: As I said, I am satisfied with my present achievement. I would just like to have more time for putting in order some of my “cupboards”. As an example, now I am studying my ancestry and preparing an enlarged family tree going back about 200 years, in Europe and Americas. Moreover, I am writing about some events of my grand-father’s life: he was an aviator in the 1910s.

 REITMAN: Have you ever thought about choosing another profession of PRM physiatrist? What field would that be?

FRANCHIGNONI: When I was young, my father would have preferred me to be a notary or a business consultant, but I was interested in medicine, psychology and rehabilitation and followed my passions! Now, I would like to have a second life as restorer of antique furniture and old master paintings!