Looking Forward – June 2012

The leadership and the staff of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) continue to gear up for our year-long celebration of the College’s centennial, which will begin with the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Clinical Congress. A wide variety of commemorative items will be available at the Congress to help mark this momentous occasion. A particularly noteworthy gift that will be available to all attendees is a book chronicling the history of this organization titled A Century of Surgeons and Surgery: The American College of Surgeons—1913–2012.

The authors—David L. Nahrwold, MD, FACS, retired chair of surgery at Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, and Peter J. Kernahan, MD, PhD, FACS, a surgeon and medical historian who has written a thesis on the College’s formation—have devoted much of the last four years to the Herculean task of researching and writing this book. The result of their painstaking work is an engaging account of the College’s achievements, occasional setbacks, and changes in direction. It vividly captures the complex personalities of the individuals who have led the College over the years, and I anticipate that ACS Fellows of all generations will find it a compelling read.

The concept

The original plans for the book were laid in 2006, when Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS, then-Executive Director of the ACS, organized an exploratory meeting to discuss the possible development of a book celebrating the College’s 100th anniversary in 2012–2013. George Sheldon, MD, FACS, chaired the panel. Other individuals who served on the committee included the late C. Rollins Hanlon, MD, FACS, then-Executive Consultant to the College; J. Patrick O’Leary, MD, FACS, then-First Vice-President of the College; and several executive staff members.
The committee reviewed histories that other medical organizations have published, as well as previously published books about the College, including: The Joy of Living, the autobiography of the College’s founder, Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS, published in 1933; Fellowship of Surgeons: A History of the American College of Surgeons, written by Past-President Loyal Davis, MD, FACS, published in 1960; and The American College of Surgeons at 75, by George W. Stephenson, MD, FACS, who served the College in many executive positions for 48 years.

After reviewing these materials, the committee members agreed that the College should, in fact, publish a book chronicling the ACS’ first century and recruited Drs. Nahrwold and Kernahan to carry out this responsibility.

Intense research

Peter wrote the first four chapters of the narrative, which focus on the state of the surgical profession from 1880 to 1910, the necessity for the establishment of standards for surgical patient care, and Dr. Martin’s career. David and Peter collaborated on the development of the fifth chapter, which recounts “the end of the Martin Era.” David wrote the remaining 18 chapters, which, among other topics, cover the following:

  • Creation of the American Board of Surgery
  • The challenges that the College faced when we initiated the first African-American Fellow
  • Activities during World War II
  • Formation of The Joint Commission
  • The College’s position on fee splitting and other unethical practices
  • Medicare and the ongoing efforts to ensure that surgeons receive appropriate compensation

To compile much of the information in the book, David and Peter combed through the College’s archives, which contain the minutes, agendas, and supporting materials from the meetings of most ACS committees; records of educational programs; Dr. Martin’s papers; and a plethora of photographs. One particularly valuable resource was the collection of 26 three-ring binders that Dr. Martin’s secretary, Eleanor K. Grimm, assembled. After Dr. Martin’s death, Ms. Grimm served as the College’s chief executive officer, and throughout her tenure with the College, she used those binders to compile clippings and tear sheets from ACS publications, the minutes of meetings, and her own notes.

The minutes of the Board of Regents meetings were also very useful because they contain all of the supplemental information provided to the Regents before and at their meetings. Examples of these items include reports, background papers, correspondence, statistical and demographic information, and summaries of the issues presented to the Regents to assist in their development of College policies. David read every single one of those documents over the course of the last four years, and he and Peter cite them frequently throughout the book. Furthermore, because the Board minutes were transcribed verbatim until the 1950s, they provided the authors with unique insights into the distinct personalities and perspectives of the College’s early leaders.

A must-read

I want to commend David and Peter for the superb job they have done of taking all of this historical information and creating from it an engaging and insightful narrative. This book really became a labor of love for David, especially, and the College owes him an enormous debt of gratitude.

Be sure to save room in your suitcase for a copy of A Century of Surgeons and Surgery. You will definitely want to keep one of these volumes on your bookshelf and to refer back to it for many years to come.

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