2019 ACS Governors Survey: ACS Governors: Bidirectional communication ambassadors

Editor’s note: The American College of Surgeons (ACS) Board of Governors (B/G) conducts an annual survey of its domestic and international members. The purpose of the survey is to provide a means of communicating the concerns of the Governors to the College leadership. The 2019 ACS Governors Survey, conducted in July 2019 by the B/G Survey Workgroup, had a 95 percent (276/289) response rate.

One of the survey’s topics was ACS communication and representation efforts. This article outlines the Governors’ feedback on this issue.

Members of the ACS B/G serve as an official, direct communications link between the Board of Regents and the Fellows. Governors have the responsibility to communicate across all strata of the College in the following ways:

  • Provide bidirectional communication between the B/G and constituents
  • Provide reports to their chapter or specialty society
  • Welcome Initiates/Fellows from the ACS chapter or surgical specialty society that the Governor represents into the College
  • Promote ACS Fellowship in state and specialty societies

The ability to effectively communicate and promptly respond to members on everyday concerns and urgent issues is critical to the ACS’ continued growth and evolution. The continued relevancy of the College depends on how appropriately it addresses and represents the views of its members. To better understand the effectiveness of the College’s communication efforts, Governors responded to survey questions regarding preferred communication methods, the effectiveness of addressing membership concerns, and how representative the College is on key issues. The survey also explored whether improvements to communication initiatives were necessary.

Bringing concerns forward

While serving as a Governor, respondents indicated how often a Fellow brought a specific concern to them to either address directly or bring forward to ACS leadership (see Figure 1). Only 8 percent of all domestic Governors had a concern brought to them monthly, whereas 31 percent had a concern brought to them once a quarter, 30 percent only once a year, and 30 percent have not received a concern to address. (The percentages in this article are rounded figures.) International Governors reported a similar experience, with 11 percent indicating monthly, 27 percent quarterly, and 27 percent once-a-year requests for advice or concerns. Interestingly, 30 percent of all Governors had never received a concern to address; International Governors tracked similarly with 34 percent.

Figure 1. During your time as a Governor, how often did Fellows bring specific concerns to you that they would like the ACS to address?

Figure 1. During your time as a Governor, how often did Fellows bring specific concerns to you that they would like the ACS to address?

Over a 12-month period, most Governors reported they had received more than two concerns (47 percent) or three to five concerns (42 percent). Only 11 percent of Governors indicated they received six or more concerns. In contrast, most international Governors (59 percent) reported three to five concerns, 10 percent reported more than 10 concerns, and 31 percent reported more than two concerns.

For those Governors who never had a concern brought to their attention, 70 percent attributed this, at least in part, to a lack of clarity by Fellows regarding the process for addressing concerns. Lack of interest by Fellows accounted for 54 percent, and for 15 percent, there were no needs that members felt had to be brought forward as a concern because the issue was already being addressed (see Figure 2). Similarly, international Governors cited lack of interest as the leading factor at 66 percent, followed by lack of knowledge among Fellows on how to address concerns at 40 percent.

Figure 2. What factors do you believe contribute to the lack of concerns from Fellows? Select all that apply.

Figure 2. What factors do you believe contribute to the lack of concerns from Fellows? Select all that apply.

Several Governors noted that they did not know what the ACS could do or its level of effectiveness in addressing any forwarded concerns. These results reveal an opportunity to better educate Governors on how to solicit and address the concerns of their constituents, an opportunity to inform Fellows about how and when to contact Governors when an issue arises, and information on how issues are considered and handled when brought to the ACS leadership.

Resolving concerns

Governors who were contacted by Fellows with concerns primarily resolved their issues by contacting their local chapter (57 percent), contacting their respective specialty societies (32 percent), and a minority (28 percent) contacted the College’s Chicago, IL, and/or Washington, DC, offices (see Figure 3). For international Governors, a similar pattern was revealed, with 66 percent resolving their issues via their local chapter, 28 percent contacting the Chicago and/or Washington, DC, offices, and 17 percent contacting their respective specialty societies.

Figure 3. How have you advanced any specific concerns that you and/or a constituent wanted the ACS to address? Select all that apply.

Figure 3. How have you advanced any specific concerns that you and/or a constituent wanted the ACS to address? Select all that apply.

Most Governors (69 percent) who advanced a concern ranked their efforts as extremely or moderately effective. Only 26 percent ranked their efforts as slightly effective and 5 percent believed the process was ineffective. Several Governors who found the process to be ineffective noted that in many cases the concern was already being addressed by the College and, therefore, they chose not to advance it further.

Communication methods

The survey also queried respondents on the communication methods they have used to contact the ACS regarding a specific issue. Most Governors (85 percent) used e-mail, 67 percent communicated in person, and 46 percent used the phone (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. In general, what communication methods have you used to contact the ACS about an issue?

Figure 4. In general, what communication methods have you used to contact the ACS about an issue?


When evaluating the effectiveness of the communication method used in contacting the ACS, 71 percent believed e-mail was very or moderately effective, 56 percent believed in-person contact was very or moderately effective, and 44 percent found phone calls to be very or moderately effective (see Table 1).

Table 1. How effective was your communication method?

Table 1. How effective was your communication method?

Regarding instances when urgent feedback on topical issues is needed, the survey also queried respondents on their communication preferences. Most Governors (80 percent) ranked e-mail as their preferred choice, followed by text messaging (46 percent), and 44 percent ranked the ACS Communities as their third choice (see Table 2). International Governors similarly ranked e-mail as their top choice (91 percent), followed by text messaging (52 percent), and ACS Communities (36 percent).

Table 2. When urgent feedback on topical issues is needed, how would you prefer the ACS contact you?

*A higher score is preferable.


Preferred communication methods did not vary by age group. Across all ages, most Governors wanted the flexibility to communicate via a variety of methods. This preferred flexibility is aligned with the College’s ability to tailor messages to different audiences via multiple communication channels.

Responding to Fellows’ concerns

Governors also were queried on the way the ACS typically responds to Fellows’ concerns. Although most Governors (69 percent) found the College to be approachable and appreciative of concerns raised by Fellows, 25 percent believed the ACS response was bureaucratic and procedural, and 6 percent found the College to be distant and nonrepresentative. International Governors reported a similar experience, with 73 percent indicating the ACS was approachable and representative, 20 percent saying the ACS was bureaucratic and procedural, and 7 percent viewing the College as distant and nonrepresentative. Acknowledging a Fellow’s concern and providing feedback and/or a response in a timely fashion by the respective Governor remains a challenge, according to the survey findings.

Conclusions and improvements

Communication preferences are rapidly changing. It is critical that the College keep abreast of new technology and preferences among its membership, especially as they may differ by age, practice type, and specialty. Although the survey revealed that most Governors are satisfied with how the ACS communicates and responds to urgent issues, the College must continue to disseminate information via a variety of communication channels to accommodate all member preferences. It also is important that the College ensure all members are aware of the variety of communication vehicles the College uses to disseminate information.

There is clearly an opportunity for better engagement with the ACS. For example, members can seek assistance from ACS through the following channels:

  • Contact a Governor
  • Contact a member of the Board of Regents
  • Contact a College Official
  • Contact the ACS via phone: 800-621-4111 or 312-202-5000; fax: 312-202-5001 (general) or 312-202-5007 (Member Services); or e-mail: postmaster@facs.org (general) or ms@facs.org (Member Services)
  • Post a message in an ACS Community
  • Use the Find a Surgeon tool on the ACS website to connect with other members

Informing members of all the available channels for communicating and raising concerns with the ACS will remain a key focus of the B/G Communications Pillar today and in the future.

Governors also will be key to educating Fellows on how to bring concerns forward. Annually, all Fellows receive a “You Have a Voice” e-mail/letter in January or February that lists the contact information for their respective chapter Governors and the chair of their specialty-specific Advisory Council. This important document will need to be expanded with additional information on how to bring forward concerns to the ACS, as well as the key role Governors play in championing Fellows’ concerns.

Effective communication is essential to the success of any organization. The survey results reveal that although strong and effective communication exists between the College administrative leadership, the Board of Regents, the B/G, and the Fellows, the College must continue to adapt to the communication preferences of its membership, adopting new technology as needed. A focus on the importance of effective communication and actively working to improve and expand the available opportunities for outreach, dialogue, and feedback will support and empower members. Future ACS communication efforts must continue to fulfill the five C’s of effective communication: clarity, consistency, creativity, content, and connections.


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