Not your father’s ACS: The view from the Chair of the YFA

As I was traveling home from Clinical Congress 2015 in Chicago, IL, having just been appointed Chair of the Young Fellows Association (YFA), I couldn’t help but reflect on how dramatically the American College of Surgeons (ACS) has changed over the years.

I have been privileged to be deeply engaged in ACS activities since my second year of residency in 2004. In the last 12 years, I have been honored to represent the College at meetings of the American Medical Association, to lead the Resident and Associate Society (RAS-ACS), to serve on several College committees, and now to chair the YFA. I have thus acquired a unique perspective on the work of the College and how it supports residents and young surgeons, which, due to the visionary leadership of numerous individuals, has recently become even more active.

This article highlights just a few of the ways in which our organization has focused its attention on becoming more sensitive to young surgeons’ needs, more responsive to our wishes and requests, and more inclusive of young surgeons in its programming and among its leadership ranks.

2014–2015 YFA Governing Council at Clinical Congress 2015. Front row (left to right, all MD, FACS): Dr. Alseidi, Dr. Britt, Dr. Sutherland, Dr. Moalem, Joshua Broghammer, Joseph DuBose, and Ashley Vergis. Back row: Daniel Klaristenfeld, Joseph Scharpf, David Cooke, Shoaib Sheikh, Cynthia Downard, Robert Winfield, Joshua Mammen, Paula Ferrada, James Suliburk, and Gerald Fortuna. Not pictured: John Elfar and Joseph Sakran.

2014–2015 YFA Governing Council at Clinical Congress 2015. Front row (left to right, all MD, FACS): Dr. Alseidi, Dr. Britt, Dr. Sutherland, Dr. Moalem, Joshua Broghammer, Joseph DuBose, and Ashley Vergis. Back row: Daniel Klaristenfeld, Joseph Scharpf, David Cooke, Shoaib Sheikh, Cynthia Downard, Robert Winfield, Joshua Mammen, Paula Ferrada, James Suliburk, and Gerald Fortuna. Not pictured: John Elfar and Joseph Sakran.

No longer a monolith

Although the College has always valued its young members and has been receptive to our input, the ACS and its leadership have occasionally been criticized for appearing to be monolithic and dominated by senior academic surgeons who may not be well attuned to the issues facing the typical surgeon. If there was any truth to that sentiment in the past, it certainly is not reflective of my experience.

In the last decade there has been a marked increase in the productivity of RAS and the YFA, which has been augmented by the support of the College’s leadership. I have seen firsthand how the investment of the College in resident and young surgeons has grown. Without question, these changes have led to a surge in enthusiasm and participation among young surgeons worldwide and will contribute to the College’s bright future as the premier organization representing surgeons around the world.

Clinical Congress 2015 was nothing short of revolutionary. Under the combined leadership of Patricia L. Turner, MD, FACS, Director, ACS Division of Member Services; Ajit K. Sachdeva, MD, FACS, FRCSC, Director, ACS Division of Education; and David B. Hoyt, MD, FACS, ACS Executive Director, several major initiatives and new programs were launched. These were all meant to inject a sense of fun into the meeting, promote collegiality, and encourage young surgeon interaction with senior surgeons and College leaders. Programs like the Selfie Scavenger Hunthich resulted in more than 500 selfies with senior College leaders posted to Twitter; recognition badges for longstanding ACS Fellows; early morning yoga and Zumba sessions; giant comment boards that provided attendees a public platform to express their views regarding the meeting; and lighthearted photographs of the Board of Regents made for a much more spirited event while maintaining the scientific rigor for which the Clinical Congress is known. Importantly, these programs underscored the fact that the College leadership is accessible, responsive, and invested in its members.

A program that deserves specific mention is the YFA- and RAS-sponsored speed-mentoring session. Promoted by Rebecca C. Britt, MD, FACS, a YFA Member and President of the Virginia Chapter of the ACS, this was a tremendously successful event where medical students and residents were matched with potential mentors, ranging from RAS and YFA leaders to senior surgeons. A total of 12 groups, each with five mentors and five mentees, were created, based upon shared interests. In the span of an hour, each mentee had the rare opportunity to have five private conversations with College leaders to discuss their goals.

In total, 300 encounters occurred during this innovative session, and the feedback from mentors and mentees was universally positive. As a participant, I can attest that the session was highly invigorating and inspiring. Hopefully, several of the pairings that were created during this session will evolve into long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.

Another notable addition to the Clinical Congress took place on the final evening of the meeting. During the Taste of the City event, conference attendees were treated to an extravaganza of live music, entertainment of various kinds, game booths, and food stations showcasing the diverse Chicago restaurant scene. With more than 1,000 attendees, this was the most notable example of the degree to which the College’s leadership is extending itself in order to remove barriers and promote interactions among its members.

YFA: More active than ever

Beyond the enhanced collegiality of the Congress, its content also was much more heavily influenced by Young Fellows than ever before. Under the leadership of Adnan Alseidi, MD, FACS, Chair of the YFA Education Workgroup, an electronic abstract and session submission system was created for interested YFA members. Using this innovative outreach program, a record-breaking 25 YFA-sponsored sessions were proposed for this year’s Congress, of which 12 were accepted. Some of these sessions covered broad themes related to a career in surgery, such as the joys, struggles, and rewards of a surgical career; managing stress and preventing burnout; the emotional impact of adverse events; and emotional intelligence. Others were more specific, including sessions such as changes in medical liability law, being an expert witness, becoming a successful principal investigator, and a session on functional ergonomics. These sessions were universally well-attended and well-received, paving the way for an even more productive year in 2016.

As I begin my term as Chair, it is heartening to note that the YFA has never been more productive, valued, and supported by the College. Today, Young Fellows are empowered to express their views by posting comments on our open ACS Community page, proposing panel session topics at Clinical Congress, and even applying for YFA seats on numerous College committees through our open call mechanisms (these positions are widely advertised on ACS media). At Clinical Congress, the College made every effort to create informal opportunities for Fellows to meet and directly communicate with our leadership. With so much effort put forth by the College to engage Young Fellows, it should come as no surprise that this year’s inductee class was one of the largest (1,679), continuing to improve upon previous records set in 2013 and again in 2014.

Future directions

It is a tremendous honor to follow in the footsteps of great Past-Chairs such as Michael Sutherland, MD, FACS; Rob Todd, MD, FACS; Laurel Soot, MD, FACS; and Mark Savarise, MD, FACS, upon whose shoulders the YFA stands today. As was the case for them, my overarching goal is to increase membership and Young Fellow participation in College activities. We will continue to formalize and expand our open application process for all committee appointments such that all interested surgeons have equal opportunity to be selected for positions when they become available.

Beyond engagement, I also have two specific goals for this year. First, the YFA is creating a manuscript outlining Young Fellows’ highly critical opinions of the recent nationwide surge in perioperative attire-related policies in response to a set of recommendations that were published by the Association of periOperative Nurses in early 2015. This is an example of how we intend to transform member opinions expressed in the ACS Communities forum into action, and we anticipate that this activity will inform the creation of a more comprehensive and appropriate set of recommendations led by the College.

In addition, spurred by interest in a Clinical Congress 2015 YFA-sponsored session, YFA members will be extensively featured in an issue of Current Problems in Surgery that will be dedicated to The Emotional Impact of Adverse Events in Surgery. In that issue, we will explore meaningful ways to prevent and mitigate burnout, as well as offer strategies to support colleagues who may be distressed over an adverse patient outcome or event.

It is an enormous privilege to serve alongside an outstanding Governing Council composed of dedicated volunteers who give tirelessly to the College. Together, and in continued collaboration with College leadership and the RAS, I look forward to working hard to help make this another banner year for the YFA.

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