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Skou Award winner: Talent is something you have to work at

This is according to Associate Professor and Medical Doctor Morten Schmidt from the Department of Clinical Medicine. He receives this year’s Skou Award, and with 135 scientific articles, more than 10,000 citations and an H-index of 40 among the items on his CV, there can be little doubt that he is hard-working. But as the nomination for the award also states, he is at least as talented and ambitious.

2021.09.09 | Sabina Bjerre Hansen

Morten Schmidt from the Department of Clinical Medicine and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology receives the Skou Award 2021. Come to the award ceremony on Friday 8 October 2021 and hear him provide some insight into his research and explain why clinical practice and epidemiological research are such a good match. Photo: Simon Byrial Fischel, AU Health.

Morten Schmidt from the Department of Clinical Medicine and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology receives the Skou Award 2021. Come to the award ceremony on Friday 8 October 2021 and hear him provide some insight into his research and explain why clinical practice and epidemiological research are such a good match. Photo: Simon Byrial Fischel, AU Health.

"It's the biggest award you can receive as a younger health science researcher. Competition is fierce as the award covers all of Health’s departments. And there are so many talented younger researchers around our faculty. It's a great honour," says this year's Skou award winner, while he ponders the concept of talent.

"I'm not blessed with any special innate talent, but I believe that talent is something you have to work at."

Morten Schmidt’s daily place of work is the Department of Cardiology and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology, and he still cannot quite believe it.

"That Hans Erik Bøtker was the person who rang and told me about the award makes it even better. He’s an extremely talented cardiologist and one of my role models," says Morten Schmidt of the normal Monday in June which took an unexpected turn when the acting dean informed him that he would receive the faculty's most prestigious talent award.

And the 38-year-old cardiology researcher from Ringkøbing is joining distinguished company. Prior to Morten Schmidt, only five researchers from Health have received the faculty's talent award.

The award whets his appetite for more

"Receiving the Skou Award is hugely motivating. It whets my appetite for more. The cardiology department at AUH is internationally recognised, and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology is among the best departments in the world in the field of register-based research. But we can be even better. I hope that the Skou Award can help to create momentum for our cardiology group and ensure continued development and growth in the group," he says.

Morten Schmidt and his colleagues work in the interface between theoretical epidemiology and clinical practice. They investigate and assess factors that affect the risk or prognosis of cardiovascular diseases, in particular those diseases that are preventable and treatable.

"You could also call it 'register-based research in heart disease', because it’s precisely the coupling of registers and the analysis of large amounts of data that is our method. In Denmark, we have special prerequisites for this kind of research due to the many national registers and the civil registration number system, which means that we can collate the registers in many different ways and follow the patients over time. It's quite unique," explains Morten Schmidt.

Stands out from the crowd

"You won’t find many people like Morten. He possesses the rare combination of detailed clinical insight and in-depth understanding of the research potential and the pitfalls associated with studying electronic health records," says Department Head Jørgen Frøkiær, who formally nominated Morten Schmidt for the Skou Award.

"At the same time, he’s a formidable ambassador for the responsible conduct of research at the university and a role model for our younger researchers and students at Health. Morten takes his responsibility as a researcher seriously, and he really makes an effort to teach others and help his students on their way," says the department head and continues:

"Morten teaches permanently on the compulsory epidemiology module for doctors during their specialist education, and he is often invited to visit hospital departments to teach in the interpretation of medical statistics. Not everyone has the clout needed to do that. Morten has more than twelve years of epidemiological experience and he’ll soon have his cardiological medical specialist training to draw upon. That’s a solid foundation."

My work is meaningful

As a medical doctor and researcher, Morten Schmidt’s work is fundamentally intended to help the patients. Either by staying healthy or by improving the prognosis if they become ill.

"I’m naturally also very interested in research that can help prevent people from suffering heart disease. In reality, this is probably where we can make the biggest difference in a wider societal perspective. Our research into the cardiovascular side effects of painkillers is an example of this type of research. Here, we’ve contributed to it no longer being possible to buy some types of medicine over the counter, as we’ve shown that the risk profiles for these drugs were too high," says Morten Schmidt.

"That's very meaningful work. I've always known that I was going to be a medical doctor, but I never imagined that I would be a researcher. Not until I suddenly stood in the middle of it. Today, I can't imagine doing anything else. The experience I have gained from practising as a medical doctor makes my research more clinically relevant, and I'm convinced that the research also makes me a better doctor. In this way, the two sides have fused together," he explains.

Morten age six: I'm going to be a doctor

It may sound like an exaggeration when Morten Schmidt says that he has always known that he would be a medical doctor. But it's true. Almost. At any rate, he told his parents about his future job while he was still in preschool class. On the other hand, his path to the world of research was rather random.

"While I was doing clinical training during the third semester of the medical degree programme at the Department of Cardiology in Holstebro, a skilled cardiologist from Skejby happened to be working there as cover. I connected with him, and he subsequently offered me the chance to become part of his research group. So meeting Consultant Michael Mæng was crucial for my career," says Morten Schmidt.

He accepted the offer and embarked on animal experimental research with balloon angioplasty on pigs in the basement of the hospital at Skejby. In connection with planning a research year, he moved into register-based research, was hooked and has been doing it ever since.

Go your own way

"When I began planning my research year, my fellow students were, to put it mildly, sceptical about my choice. But sometimes going against the flow is a positive move. While only two students had chosen to take a research year at Clinical Epidemiology before me, and the department hadn’t yet had any PhD students, the situation today is entirely different," says Morten Schmidt and elaborates:

"People have opened their eyes to the strengths of our field and not least the potential there is in the PhD degree programme within epidemiology . There’s a lot of interest in the department both from home and abroad, and when I need new students for our group, I now typically have three times as many applicants as we need. It's a fantastic development," he says.

So although the decision to focus on epidemiology required courage, it was not difficult.

"I was very inspired by the colleagues I met at the Department of Clinical Epidemiology. In particular by Professor, Department Chair Henrik Toft Sørensen, from whom I’ve subsequently learned a lot. I had a good gut feeling back in 2009, and I’ve never had any regrets since," says Morten Schmidt, who together with the award receives DKK 100,000 earmarked for research.

Come to the award ceremony

The Jens Christian Skou Award will be formally presented on Friday 8 October 2021 at 13:00, and Morten Schmidt will give a celebration address on his research into heart disease.

The faculty extends an invitation to an informal reception with snacks and a glass of wine immediately following the award ceremony. This will be open to everybody who registers via AU’s webshop. The deadline for registration is 30 September 2021.

About Morten Schmidt

  • Graduated as a medical doctor from Aarhus University in 2012 and completed his PhD at the university in 2014.
  • Spent six months as a postdoc at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and has also had research stays at Boston University, Dartmouth University, Ohio State University and California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute.
  • Considers using the DKK 100,000 which follows with the Skou Award on another research stay abroad.
  • Has published 135 scientific articles, is cited more than 10,000 times and has an H-index of 40.
  • Received a grant of DKK 7.5 million in 2020 under the Novo Nordisk Foundation's research leader’s programme.
  • Born in 1983 and raised in Ringkøbing in Western Jutland.
  • Lives in Aarhus together with his wife Sigrún Jóhannesdóttir Schmidt, who is a medical doctor at the Department of Dermatology, and their two children, two-year-old Alfred and one-year-old Alma. 

About the Jens Christian Skou Award

The Skou Award is given annually to a researcher in the field of health science who is extraordinarily talented within his or her field of research, and who is both creative and productive.

The award is named after Jens Christian Skou, who received the Nobel Prize in 1997 and is still a source of inspiration for junior researchers. Every year, Health awards the prize around the time of Jens Christian Skou’s birthday on 8 October.

The following researchers at Health have received the Skou award:

Read more about the Jens Chr. Skou award in the article "New award at Health to honour research talents"

Associate professor, MD & PhD Morten Schmidt
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
Aarhus University Hospital, Department of Clinical Epidemiology
Email: morten.schmidt@clin.au.dk
Mobile: (+45) 41 28 99 55

Department Head & Professor Jørgen Frøkiær
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine
Email: jf@clin.au.dk
Mobile: (+45) 20 23 45 27

Grants and awards, PhD students, Health, Health, Technical / administrative staff, Department of Clinical Medicine, Academic staff, Dept Clin Epi