This year marks the 40th anniversary of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Puerto Rico Chapter F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Forum and Memorial Lecture, which was inaugurated in 1981 and has been presented every year as part of the chapter’s annual meeting. The annual F.L. Raffucci Memorial Lecture and Surgical Research Forum were established to honor the memory of Francisco L. Raffucci Arce, MD, FACS, a pioneer surgeon, educator, and researcher in Puerto Rico, and a mentee of Owen Wangensteen, MD, FACS, who led the department of surgery at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. In fact, Dr. Raffucci Arce was one of the surgical fellows who benefited from the Minnesota “Wangensteen Experience.”
Modeled on the legendary Wangensteen Surgical Research Forum at the ACS Clinical Congress—now known as the Scientific Forum—the Puerto Rico Chapter’s Surgical Forum was established to foster surgical research among young investigators, especially residents of surgical and nonsurgical specialties in Puerto Rico. Dr. Wangensteen’s multiple achievements in American surgery include the areas of surgical research, gastrointestinal surgery, interdisciplinary approach to care, fostering and financing surgical research, and advancing a basic sciences approach to educating surgical residents—the establishment of the Surgical Research Forum was foremost and equally influential as his other professional accomplishments. (Dedications of the Wangensteen Scientific Forum started in 1967, with I. S. Ravdin, MD, FACS.)
Dr. Raffucci Arce’s early career
Dr. Raffucci Arce was born in 1921 and passed away in 1970. His interest in liver disease was evident in his master’s thesis on liver ischemia, which he wrote while in training at the University of Minnesota. In fact, the topic of this thesis inspired many of his trainees’ and colleagues’ interest in liver surgery and immunology.
His career spanned years of continuous efforts in surgical research at the University of Puerto Rico’s medical school. He established a functional surgical research laboratory and fostered the participation of surgical residents. An established cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Raffucci Arce and others developed the practice of cardiac surgery in Puerto Rico with the appropriate training of residents. He developed the surgical residency program at the university, which continues training surgeons to this day. Many of his trainees continued their postgraduate education by studying a surgical subspecialty, and many of these physicians have held leadership positions on our island and abroad. In fact, during his tenure as chair of surgery, Dr. Raffucci Arce mentored many surgeons who have distinguished themselves with positions as department chairs, program chairs, directors of institutions, deans, presidents of societies and other organizations, and more. Many of his residents went on to be pioneers in their own disciplines and established programs of their own throughout the island.
Unfortunately, Dr. Raffucci Arce passed away from sarcoidosis in 1970, but he left behind an important legacy for surgery and surgical specialties on our island.
F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Forum
In the late 1970s, with the initiative and leadership of Enrique Vazquez Quintana, MD, FACS, then-Puerto Rico Chapter President, the chapter began discussions in regard to founding a surgical research forum in celebration of the research and education principles of Dr. Raffucci Arce similar to the College’s Wangensteen Surgical Forum. The chapter succeeded in bringing the concept to life together with the memorial lecture.
A member of the chapter was tasked with organizing and directing the forum and memorial lecture and finding the necessary funding to support these initiatives. The College was generous in providing space during the annual Clinical Congress for both the lecture and the forum.
The Puerto Rico Chapter leadership had planned to invite Dr. Wangensteen as the initial Raffucci Memorial Lecturer, but, unfortunately, he passed away in 1981. So, Dr. Vazquez Quintana invited Benjamin Eiseman, MD, FACS, a close associate and friend of Dr. Raffucci Arce, to give the lecture. Dr. Eiseman graciously accepted and delivered the first memorial lecture.
The Raffucci Memorial Lecture was the start of what was to become an important tradition for the chapter, our medical school, and all the surgeons on our island. The chairs of surgery and of the surgical and medical subspecialties were all enthusiastic about participating or having their residents or young faculty participate in the F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Forum as an opportunity for presentation, discussion, and practice for young surgeons and medical students with an interest in surgery.
Residents and young investigators all were eager to submit their research studies to the F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Forum. Not only was it a platform for residents to present their research, but it also was an opportunity to practice for national and international presentations. The excitement of the residents for the upcoming meetings was evident throughout the 40 years of the program’s existence. From its inception to now, residents and students have presented approximately 340 papers, most of them with co-investigators, including faculty mentors.
F.L. Raffucci Memorial Lecture
The Raffucci Memorial Lecture was intended to acknowledge surgical investigators and leaders who had made significant, even global, contributions to surgery, the surgical specialties, and science in general. Every year, we invited important investigators to deliver the lectures. Significantly, in the beginning, many of the speakers had been colleagues, friends, or Minnesota fellows with Dr. Raffucci Arce. Table 1 shows the list of speakers from 1981 through 2021. The list reads like a “who’s who” in American surgery and medicine. All speakers delivered memorable lectures enjoyed by all, with a large audience including nonsurgical specialists and with the Raffucci family present during the initial years. The topics were an excellent amalgam of important subjects, from principles of education to research, surgery, technology, clinical practice, and more. The speakers were given a commemorative plaque and a gift and were duly feted.
TABLE 1. PREVIOUS F.L. RAFFUCCI MEMORIAL LECTURES
The forum and lecture continue to serve as the traditional component of the Puerto Rico Chapter’s annual meeting, awarding first-, second-, and third-place prizes for the best research, including the best presentations. Many of the residents and young investigators have gone on to become leaders in their own right.
As has happened with the Wangensteen Scientific Forum, the topics of the F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Forum have evolved through the years, from what was important and in vogue in the 1980s and 1990s, such as cardiac, transplantation, immunology, clinical studies, to more recent years when topics such as molecular biology, technology, and other modern subjects tend to be the focus.
The authors of this article suggest interested individuals refer to a review written by a notable member of the Minnesota faculty, Arnold S. Leonard, MD, PhD, on the Wangensteen Influence on American Surgery, and to Dr. Vazquez Quintana’s book on the history of surgery in Puerto Rico. A brief biography of Dr. Raffucci Arce is presented by Norman Maldonado, MD, former President of the University of Puerto Rico. A memorial on the inauguration of the F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Laboratory, located on our medical sciences campus, is dedicated to Dr. Raffucci Arce and bears his name.
Dr. Wangensteen’s influence, and that of his trainees and colleagues, such as Dr. Raffucci Arce, has continued to have an impact through the years, specifically in the areas of surgical quality care, surgical education, and surgical research worldwide. Those of us who trained under Dr. Raffucci Arce directly, and Dr. Wangensteen indirectly, have cherished the opportunity we had in Puerto Rice to uphold their important legacies and their dedication to providing quality care to the surgical patient.
The 40th anniversary of the F.L. Raffucci Surgical Research Forum and Memorial Lecture is a testament to the enduring commitment of Dr. Raffucci Arce and Dr. Wangensteen to the surgical profession, and we are very proud of this achievement, and of having been part of the four decades that have been a link to the past and a beacon to the future.
The authors acknowledge with gratitude the assistance of Luz D. Garcia, secretary, Auxilio Mutuo Hospital, San Juan, in the preparation of this article.
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