Each spring, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) hosts a Leadership & Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC. This meeting includes an array of sessions highlighting specific actionable strategies for enhancing leadership skills for surgeons at every level and sessions outlining how to effectively advocate on behalf of our patients.
As we host our first in-person summit since 2019, I would like to focus on what surgeon leadership and advocacy means to the future of our profession and the patients who entrust us with their care.
Lead by Example, Inspire Others
Leadership can be defined in many ways, but I like to think of it as a process that an individual uses to influence other parties to achieve common goals—a view that Dr. Paul Northouse shared in his book, Leadership: Theory and Practice. Because leadership is about influence, we don’t necessarily need to be in a position of authority or have a particular title to lead by example and inspire those around us.
Authentic leadership is not linear, particularly not in challenging times; leadership is an interactive process where surgeons of all specialties and in all practice settings can effect meaningful change, develop high-performance teams, and improve patient outcomes. Empowering others to succeed, particularly during stressful and uncertain times, is the hallmark of transformative leadership.
If we think about leadership within the framework of influencing others, developing the skills that pertain to team building, mentorship, and relationship management are essential.
One way to develop this expertise is by sharing best practices with peers and interacting with healthcare professionals who experience similar challenges. When I attend the Leadership & Advocacy Summit, I am always inspired by our success stories. Invariably, some of those stories employ solutions that were the result of advice offered during the previous year’s summit.
You also can build your leadership skills by taking advantage of other ACS resources, including:
- The annual 3-day Surgeons as Leaders course, which is designed for surgeons of all specialties and backgrounds who serve in leadership roles, or those who aspire to such positions
- The Resident and Associate Society Grand Rounds webinar series, which features presentations on contract negotiation, principles of leadership for the young surgeon, social media and online reputation management, and more
- ACS committees, ACS chapters, and the Young Fellows Association, Women in Surgery Committee, and mentorship programs
Everyone has the potential to lead in their practice setting regardless of their position in the organizational hierarchy. Leading by example and harnessing the power of collective intelligence is an innovative and inclusive approach—the College is here to help you succeed and grow.
Use Your Leadership Skills to Advocate for Patients
Surgeon leadership is paramount to effective advocacy. The ACS has an outstanding team in Washington, DC, to assist us as we advocate for what is best for the surgical patient.
Annual advocacy priorities are developed through guidance from the ACS Health Policy and Advocacy Group, Health Policy and Advocacy Council, Regents, Governors, Officers, and other surgeon leaders. But the most powerful advocates are you, the surgeons who care for patients every day. Who, better than us, to tell the story of the lifesaving work we do to all who need to hear it: patients, the press, politicians, and the public?
With your help, Congress recently passed and President Biden signed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, named in honor of the medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in New York City, who died by suicide in April 2020. The legislation establishes grants and requires other activities to improve mental and behavioral health among healthcare providers. The next time you speak with your members of Congress, thank them for enacting this legislation because if we’re not well mentally, we can’t be there for our patients. Your ACS staff advocated, on your behalf, for passage of this important legislation.
Congress also passed and the President signed legislation to fund the MISSION ZERO Act, which creates a grant program to assist civilian trauma centers and facilities in partnering with military trauma professionals, teams, and providers to help increase military healthcare readiness.
Issues that still require our advocacy include:
- Medicare physician reimbursement. The annual uncertainty surrounding physician compensation, along with the administrative burdens associated with the payment system, serve, in part, to make members of our profession more susceptible to burnout and thereby contribute to surgeon workforce shortages, which, in turn, affect patient access to care.
- Trauma care. The College supports violence prevention legislation, including efforts to advance background checks for purchasers of firearms and develop hospital-based intervention programs.
- Prior authorization. To prevent delays in medically necessary care, the ACS is asking Congress to improve prior authorization requirements in Medicare Advantage plans by adopting the Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act.
- Access to care. The College encourages lawmakers to cosponsor the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2021 to ensure an adequate surgical workforce and protect patient access to care.
For more information about how you can do your part to inform policymakers and legislators about the challenges that affect you and your community, visit facs.org/surgeonsvoice.
Take Up the Charge
Surgeons are natural leaders. Many of us were drawn to this profession because it allows us to provide care quickly and effectively to patients. We also like leading the multidisciplinary teams that help us provide this level of care. Surgeons, especially ACS Fellows, have developed an impressive reputation as the source of reliable information that policymakers and lawmakers can use.
Our patients and peers count on us to improve the healthcare system, our institutions, and our communities. By accepting leadership roles in the ACS, in your institutions, and by exerting your influence in the federal and state legislatures, you bring us one step closer to ensuring their expectations are fulfilled.
Watch a short video of Dr. Turner congratulating all of the newly matched surgery residents and welcoming them to join the ACS at youtu.be/73Vj4oJrudg.