First Carlos Pellegrini Traveling Fellow reports on experience

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From left: Dr. Poon with Dr. Russell and Dr. Pellegrini at the Harkins Surgical Symposium.

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UWM’s da Vinci’s Si system.

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Dr. Poon and Dr. Pellegrini.

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Dr. Pellegrini demonstrating his culinary skills.

I was very fortunate to be chosen as the first Carlos Pellegrini Traveling Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

Cleveland Clinic Florida

My visit to the U.S. started September 30, 2013, when I met my host, ACS Regent Steven Wexner, MD, FACS, chair, department of colorectal surgery, Cleveland Clinic Florida, Weston, and his team. They showed me their state-of-the-art operations for treating a variety of colorectal conditions, including ultra-low rectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and complex ano-rectal disease. I felt particularly fortunate to watch Dr. Wexner demonstrate, without assistance from a plastic surgeon, the harvesting of a gracillus muscle flap in a minimally invasive approach to recto-vagina fistula repair. Although my visit to the Cleveland Clinic Florida was short, ending on October 3, it was valuable and helpful.

2013 Clinical Congress

After visiting Florida, I went to Washington, DC, to give a presentation at the Fifth Worldwide Congress of the Clinical Robotic Surgery Association, followed by participation in the 2013 ACS Annual Clinical Congress.

I had never had the opportunity to attend the ACS Clinical Congress before, and I was so thankful to be there. It was an excellent academic meeting with ample time for learning and sharing of surgical knowledge. I also enjoyed participating in a fantastic social event where surgeons gathered to celebrate the ACS Centennial. My experience at the Clinical Congress was unforgettable. It was one of the biggest surgical meetings I have attended and yet was well-organized in terms of registration, transportation between the convention center and hotels, smooth presentation of all the sessions, and social events.

Most impressive was the variety of topics covered at the meetings. Apart from presentations on the latest clinical developments, the Clinical Congress also featured sessions on more personal interests, including tax planning, asset management, and career and leadership development.

I was also deeply touched to see the respect and tribute that the ACS pays to surgeons who dedicate themselves to volunteerism and humanitarian efforts. This area receives little attention in the surgical community of my country, where honor is mainly given to surgeons who excel in clinical or academic performance. I was moved by the Clinical Congress presentations during the plenary session on Humanitarian Surgical Outreach at Home and Abroad and the recognition of award winners at the Board of Governors dinner.

At the College’s International Scholars and Travelers 2013 session I presented a summary of my research on various strategies to improve outcomes in laparoscopic colorectal surgery. I was pleased to meet and speak to Victor Fazio, MD, FACS, emeritus chairman of the department of colorectal surgery, Cleveland Clinic, OH, who offered kind and helpful advice.

By attending various academic sessions and social activities, I had opportunities to meet renowned U.S. surgeons—among them good friends from my department who have come to Hong Kong frequently to support our surgical meetings. I was most excited to see Prof. Stephen Deane, MB, BS, FACS, Chair of the ACS International Relations Committee, because he was my teacher at medical school in Sydney, Australia.

A Welcome to Washington Tour, which included visits to notable buildings, monuments, and memorials in Washington, DC, as well as Arlington National Cemetery, provided me with insights into American history.

Learning from Dr. Pellegrini

After the ACS Clinical Congress, I spent a weekend in Vancouver, BC, and then crossed the U.S.-Canada border by car to arrive in Seattle, WA, and start my visit to the department of surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) on October 13. My hosts were ACS President Carlos Pellegrini, MD, FACS, FRCSI(Hon), The Henry N. Harkins Professor and Chair, department of surgery, and Alessandro Fichera, MD, FACS, professor of surgery.

I spent a very meaningful week at UWMC. I worked largely with Dr. Fichera and his team, and we had good discussions about our experience in colorectal surgery. Dr. Fichera has excellent operative skills and a very good sense of humor, and I very much enjoyed observing his operations. I also joined Gary Mann, MD, FACS, associate professor of surgery, in a robot-assisted rectal cancer resection, and we shared our views on the application of robotic systems in colorectal cancer surgery. UWMC is equipped with the latest da Vinci Si system, which has a dual console and allows for direct supervision and teaching of trainees via the robotic system.

My visit to UWMC coincided with its Harkins Surgical Symposium. The UWMC department staff made excellent presentations on a variety of topics, and their comments demonstrated the unit’s dedication to high standards of patient care.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Pellegrini and Peter Wu, MD, FACS, chairman of the organizing committee, for inviting me to present my experience in colonic stenting for obstructive colorectal cancer and robot-assisted rectal cancer resection. The presentation allowed me to interact with the residents, and to introduce them to my department. Most importantly, I offered my thanks for all the kindness that Dr. Pellegrini has shown toward the University of Hong Kong through the years.

A highlight of the symposium was the Alfred A. Strauss Lecture, and I was honored to converse again with the speaker, former ACS Executive Director Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS, a renowned colorectal surgeon who had visited my department in the past. Although the theme of this Strauss Lecture centered on the U.S. health care system, the message was not restricted to U.S. surgeons, and I, too, benefited from Dr. Russell’s lecture.

Dr. Pellegrini kindly allowed me to stay in his home during my visit to UWMC. I was looked after very well by him and his wife, Kelly. I treasured the chance to build a good relationship with them and their two lovely dogs. I particularly enjoyed the time Dr. Pellegrini and I shared on our way to work every morning in his car. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery on both sides of Lake Washington as well as the opportunity to speak with and learn from a great and kind leader about surgery, hospital administration, and life in America.

Professional friendships to last a lifetime

My experience as the first Carlos Pellegrini Traveling Fellow allowed me to visit and connect with two first-class U.S. surgical centers and to rewardingly participate in the very special Centennial of the ACS at the 2013 Clinical Congress. I am grateful to several individuals for my successful trip, including Prof. John Wong, MB, BS, FACS(Hon), who led the department of surgery at the University of Hong Kong to become a world-renowned institution and established good collaborative relationships with many surgical leaders in the U.S. As a result, I was well recognized and received in the U.S.

I am also obliged to Drs. Wexner and Pellegrini, who hosted my visit. Finally, I thank Kate Early, the International Liaison and Scholarships Administrator, ACS Division of Member Services, who worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth travels of each international scholar in the class of 2013.

Soon after my visit to the U.S., Dr. Pellegrini came to Hong Kong with Kelly, and I had the chance to introduce them to my family. I look forward to seeing all the friends I made in the U.S. again soon, and welcome you all to visit Hong Kong and my department in the future.

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