Honoring mentors: An ACS tradition

Mentorships in the surgical profession are greatly valued, and many mentor/mentee relationships have been formed through networking opportunities and formal programs offered by the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The College matches mentors and mentees through its Young Fellows Association, the Women in Surgery Committee (WiSC), and the Committee on Trauma. Many Fellows have expressed their gratitude to mentors in essays and other articles featured in ACS publications, whereas others have acknowledged their advisors by making tribute gifts to the ACS Foundation. Since its founding in 2005, the ACS Foundation has assisted in the development of tribute programs, and the contributions raised are used to sustain the legacy of inspiring surgical teachers. Notable examples are the Claude H. Organ, Jr., MD, FACS, Traveling Fellowship; the Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS, Faculty Research Fellowship; and the Olga M. Jonasson Lectureship.

Claude H. Organ, Jr., MD, FACS

Dr. Organ

Dr. Organ

Soon after his death in 2005, the family and friends of Dr. Organ provided funding for the Claude H. Organ, Jr., MD, FACS, Traveling Fellowship, which serves as a lasting memorial to the ACS Past-President’s extraordinary life and work. Dr. Organ was a renowned general surgeon, educator, and advocate for underrepresented populations entering the surgical profession. In 1987, he became a founding member of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons (SBAS), and in 1993 he became the first and, to date, only male recipient of the Nina Starr Braunwald Award from the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) for “outstanding service to the advancement of women in surgery.”1

Dr. Chagpar, 2013 Organ Fellowship recipient

Dr. Chagpar, 2013 Organ Fellowship recipient

Dr. Organ’s commitment to mentoring residents was unwavering, as many residents and mentees who benefited from his guidance would confirm. “If he never did an operation (he did thousands), if he never gave a talk, wrote a chapter or wrote an article (he did hundreds of them), if he never held an office in a major surgical organization (he held dozens), he would still be a giant in American surgery simply for having helped so many of us make our own small contribution,” wrote John R. Potts III, MD, FACS, one of Dr. Organ’s mentees.1 Dr. Potts is now senior vice-president, surgical accreditation, Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, and adjunct professor of surgery, the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

The annual Claude Organ Traveling Fellowship is awarded to an outstanding young surgeon from the SBAS, AWS, or Surgical Section of the National Medical Association (see page 63 for information on applying for the 2017 fellowship). This year represents a milestone for the Organ Fellowship, as the 10th recipient will be named.

Patricia L. Turner, MD, FACS, Director, ACS Division of Member Services, was the first Organ Fellow in 2008. She used her fellowship award to perform collaborative research on patient history and surgical outcomes with the anesthesia outcome research group at Cleveland Clinic, OH. Subsequent Organ Fellows have used the fellowship to cultivate their leadership and mentorship skills, and the 2013 Organ Fellow, Anees B. Chagpar, MD, MPH, FACS, used her award to study global cancer care management.2

Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS

Dr. Russell

Dr. Russell

The Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS, Faculty Research Fellowship (Russell Fellowship) fund was established to honor the former ACS Executive Director, under the leadership of whom the College advanced the mission of providing optimal surgical patient care. He was a proponent of surgical research and of those surgeons who followed this career path. Dr. Russell’s positive influence as a mentor was apparent when many of his mentees and friends generously contributed a collective $306,000 in a campaign led by ACS Foundation Past Vice-Chair Richard B. Reiling, MD, FACS, for the Russell Fellowship fund.

Dr. To, 2015 Russell Fellowship recipient

Dr. To, 2015 Russell Fellowship recipient

Carlos A. Pellegrini, MD, FACS, FRCSI(Hon), FRCS(Hon), FRCSEd(Hon), ACS Past-President and Past-Chair, ACS Board of Regents, presented the ACS Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously to Dr. Russell during the Convocation at Clinical Congress 2014 in San Francisco, CA. During the award presentation, Dr. Pellegrini remarked, “In choosing Dr. Thomas Russell, the College is not only recognizing his contributions and service to the organization’s mission, but also is recognizing a dedicated leader, a compassionate humanitarian, and a man who touched many lives in ways that left us all better people for having known him.”3

Dr. Russell believed that the future of the surgical profession rests in the hands of the young surgeons who will develop into tomorrow’s leaders. Thus, the Russell Fellowship is targeted at young surgeons who embody the College’s mission of advancing excellence in patient care, identifying and supporting leadership potential, and encouraging a strong interest in research and education.

Dr. Jonasson

Dr. Jonasson

To date, two surgeons have been recipients of the Russell Fellowship: Kathleen B. To, MD, FACS, who is studying performance improvement in emergency general surgery at the University of Michigan department of surgery, Ann Arbor; and Anthony D. Yang, MD, FACS, who is working with a 55-hospital collaborative to improve venous thromboembolism prevention at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL.

Olga M. Jonasson, MD, FACS

Pauline W. Chen, MD, FACS, delivering the 2013 Olga M. Jonasson Lecture

Pauline W. Chen, MD, FACS, delivering the 2013
Olga M. Jonasson Lecture

The WiSC and friends and colleagues of Dr. Jonasson established the Olga M. Jonasson Lecture in 2007 to honor her legacy. Dr. Jonasson was a pioneer and trailblazer, exemplified by her position as the first woman to chair an academic surgery department in the U.S., and the first woman to serve as director of an ACS division. She was a devoted teacher and mentor to countless surgeons, both men and women. Many donors contributed funds to establish an endowment to ensure the ongoing presentation of the Jonasson lectureship.

“As one of the first women to have a successful career in surgery, Dr. Jonasson created a pathway for all of us to follow. Her leadership, determination, and tenacity in breaking down barriers enabled and inspired us to pursue our dreams and achieve success,” said Hilary A. Sanfey, MB, BCh, FACS, ACS First-Vice President, and Chair of the Olga M. Jonasson Lectureship campaign.

The first Jonasson Lecture was presented at the ACS Clinical Congress 2007 by Nancy L. Ascher, MD, FACS, who spoke on The Ultimate in Surgical Translation: Transplantation. Each subsequent lecturer has epitomized Dr. Jonasson’s key attributes of leadership, education, research, and service to others. Additionally, the lecture serves as an annual, living testament to Dr. Jonasson and her many groundbreaking accomplishments as a transplant surgeon and as an outstanding teacher and mentor for many women and minority surgeons.4

The tradition continues

More recent fundraising initiatives in gratitude to mentors also were completed through the ACS Foundation. As a result, the College offers fellowships and scholarships honoring ACS Distinguished Service Award recipient Murray F. Brennan, MD, FACS; the late Jameson L. Chassin, MD, FACS; and Dr. Pellegrini.

In 2015, David J. Brown, MD, associate vice-president and associate dean for health equity and inclusion, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Rahul K. Shah, MD, FACS, vice-president and chief quality and safety officer, Children’s National Health System, Washington, DC, led the effort to establish a traveling mentorship award named for ACS Past-President and Past-Chair, ACS Board of Regents, Gerald B. Healy, MD, FACS, FRCS(Hon), FRCSI(Hon).5 The intent of the Gerald B. Healy Traveling Mentorship Award is to provide a young surgeon with the resources needed to travel and meet with one or more mentors. Recipients are expected to then report on lessons learned. Drs. Brown and Shah created this fellowship to honor Dr. Healy’s highly respected mentorship of many residents and medical students.

“Dr. Healy always looked out for our best interests, was selfless with his mentorship, and never pushed us to be a clone of him,” said Dr. Brown. Dr. Shah also expressed his admiration of Dr. Healy, stating, “Not a week goes by where I do not reflect on a point that was conveyed to me by Dr. Healy. One of my favorites is his imploring us to just walk down the hall or pick up the phone and speak to someone rather than sending an e-mail. The value Dr. Healy placed on ensuring we realized the value of the personal touch has been an invaluable part of my career.”

In 2016, the ACS Foundation began a new tradition on National Doctors’ Day with a fundraising campaign that provides the opportunity for all Fellows and ACS members to honor their mentors with a tribute gift. On March 30, the ACS Foundation is again participating in the 2017 National Doctors’ Day. Any donor who makes a contribution in honor of a mentor will be recognized in the ACS Bulletin, ACS NewsScope, on the ACS website, and at Clinical Congress. As a courtesy, an acknowledgement letter will be sent to the donor’s honoree or family, if in memoriam. For more information, visit the ACS website or call 312-202-5338.


  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Opening Doors: Contemporary African American academic surgeons. 2011. Available at: www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/aframsurgeons/organ.html. Accessed January 23, 2017.
  2. American College of Surgeons. Member Services. Claude H. Organ, Jr., MD, FACS, Traveling Fellowship. Available at: facs.org/member-services/scholarships/special/organ. Accessed January 7, 2017.
  3. American College of Surgeons. Carlos A. Pellegrini, MD, FACS, ACS presents Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously to Dr. Russell. Bull Am Coll Surg. 2014;99(12):57-58. Available at: bulletin.facs.org/2014/12/acs-presents-lifetime-achievement-award-posthumously-to-dr-russell/. Accessed January 30, 2017.
  4. American College of Surgeons. Women in Surgery Committee. The Olga M. Jonasson Lecture. Available at: facs.org/about-acs/governance/acs-committees/women-in-surgery-committee/jonasson. Accessed January 23, 2017.
  5. American College of Surgeons. ACS Foundation. Healy award fundraising initiative achieves goal. Available at: facs.org/about-acs/acs-foundation/initiatives/healy. Accessed January 23, 2017.

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