National Doctors’ Day initiative highlights gratitude for mentors

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) Foundation has created a special giving opportunity for ACS Fellows who want to acknowledge their mentors on National Doctors’ Day (March 30). The donations received this year will be used to support ACS scholarships and other philanthropic programs. Donors and their honorees received special recognition in the June issue of the Bulletin.*

Priceless inspiration

K. Kristene Koontz Gugliuzza, MD, FACS, professor of surgery, the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, gave in honor of Edward E. Etheredge, MD, FACS, retired professor of surgery, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA. “In 1985, Dr. Etheredge came to Tulane Medical School to revamp the kidney transplant program,” Dr. Gugliuzza wrote. “I was privileged to work with him and was influenced by his professionalism, knowledge, and compassion. I became his first fellow two years later. He changed my career trajectory, and I am grateful for his willingness to share his knowledge and to send me [into surgical practice] with confidence and caring for the patients that we have the honor in treating.”

Marc A. Hoeksema, MD, FACS, general and critical care surgeon, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Grand Rapids, MI, who gave in honor of James E. Sampliner, MD, FACS, general surgeon, Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, OH, also acknowledged his gratitude for his mentor. “Dr. Sampliner’s love of surgery and his love for his residents shone brightly in each interaction I had with him. He demanded excellence and always gave us glimpses of our better selves—the surgeons we could become through hard work, persistence, and compassion,” Dr. Hoeksema noted.

As an ACS Foundation Board Member for nine years, it is heartening to see so many surgeons take part in the National Doctors’ Day giving initiative, as this program not only raises important contributions for philanthropic offerings, but also recognizes the inspiring work of mentors. The response from Fellows underscored the value they place on their mentors’ role in teaching, encouraging, and supporting them in their surgical training, particularly at the start of their career.

Lifelong appreciation

I also feel grateful for one of my early mentors, Edgar Fincher, MD, FACS, former chair, neurosurgery section, Emory University, Atlanta, GA. As a senior medical student in 1960, I was assigned a surgical rotation, spending a month with a senior surgeon at the Emory University Hospital. My placement was with Dr. Fincher, and his reputation preceded our meeting. He was renowned for being a pioneer in neurosurgery, but I had also heard rumors that he could be overly demanding of his residents. This assessment could have not been more wrong. As I arrived the first day and shook Dr. Fincher’s hand, my fears were relieved immediately. I found a warm, caring man who became my friend, teacher, and mentor.

From the beginning, Dr. Fincher treated me as an equal professional. We enjoyed working with each other, and he left no question unanswered or treated as trivial. During my rotation with him, I viewed all of his daily activities at the hospital. This included time in the operating room, office visits, hospital rounds, and even coffee in the lounge. When Dr. Fincher learned of my interest in surgery, he suggested that I consider applying to Barnes Hospital, now Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. He thought it would be an ideal residency program for me under the tutelage of another important mentor for me, Carl A. Moyer, MD, FACS, former professor and head of surgery (1951–1965). Dr. Fincher provided an excellent referral for me, and the rest is history. I soon moved there and spent my entire medical career in St. Louis.

After leaving Emory, I continued to correspond with Dr. Fincher until his death in 1969. He was always interested in my professional progress and my family life. There have been many times in my career when I have gratefully reflected on my relationship with Dr. Fincher. He exemplified my concept of a mentor through his concern, wise counsel, and guidance.

Continuing legacy

It is encouraging that the tradition of mentorship in surgical residency programs continues on today. In the inaugural Herand Abcarian Lecture delivered at the ACS Clinical Congress 2007, former ACS Executive Director Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS, emphasized the importance of mentorship, stating, “Mentors are…interested in their trainees not only professionally, but as human beings as well. They promote their trainees’ efforts to balance professional and personal needs and obligations. They are, on multiple levels, a resident’s or a student’s support system and biggest fan.”

Many of the ACS programs and scholarships, funded through ACS Foundation contributions, lead to strong mentor/mentee relationships. For example, the ACS Committee on Trauma offers a Future Trauma Leaders mentorship program, which focuses on trauma and acute care surgeons who are in their first five years of practice. Each donation to National Doctors’ Day represents the appreciation that the protégé has for the mentor. I am proud to be a part of the ACS Foundation’s efforts to recognize and thank these individuals who have helped others reach their full potential.

For more information about National Doctors’ Day and the ACS Foundation, visit the ACS website.

*American College of Surgeons Foundation. Your support matters. National Doctors’ Day donor and honoree listing. Bull Am Coll Surg. June 2017. Available at: Accessed June 1, 2017.

American College of Surgeons. Mentoring the modern surgeon. Bull Am Coll Surg. 2008;93(7):19-25.


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