Peering out from 28 floors above the busy, early morning streets of downtown Chicago, I was entranced by the view. The rising sun in the east created a shimmering, iridescent play of light on the waters of Lake Michigan that extended as far as the eye could see. The room I was in also commanded my attention. Several rows of desks, each with a computer screen, faced a single elevated line of chairs for the leaders of the deliberations that were about to take place. Above this row on the front wall of this imposing room is emblazoned the seal of our College with its mission statement, “The ACS is dedicated to improving the care of the surgical patient and to safeguarding standards of care in an optimal and ethical practice environment,” to remind those in the room of the ultimate purpose in serving this professional organization. So the Regents room and view appeared to me, a newcomer to these meetings of the leadership of the American College of Surgeons.
I hope I can convince you in the paragraphs that follow that this mission and its execution by Regents, Governors, and Fellows of the ACS, are every bit as noble as the architecture of the room and the view it affords.
I have been a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons since 1980. My membership in this extraordinary association has provided me many benefits and numerous opportunities. In the early years, I significantly expanded the knowledge base I had gained in residency by attending every fall Clinical Congress and consuming as many educational offerings as time would permit during this nearly week-long learning marathon. After a few years, I was granted the privilege of being on the instructor end of several of these educational exchanges. At that time in my career, it appeared to me that the ACS’s main and almost sole purpose was to provide continuing education for surgeons who attended the annual Clinical Congress. I have subsequently found that it is so much more.
In 2005, I was invited to represent one of my specialist surgical societies as a Governor. During my 6-year term, I came to realize that the key purpose of the Board of Governors (BOG) is to provide an effective communication conduit between the Fellows and the sole policy-making body of the ACS, the Board of Regents (BOR). In recent years, most of the Regents have attended the annual BOG meeting in order to facilitate this interaction.
In 2012, I was elected First Vice-President of the ACS. Now as an officer of the College, I was invited for 2 years to attend all BOR meetings and to be in the mainstream of all communications relating to strategy and policy. These opportunities provided me with an intimate, inside look at how this large organization of nearly 80,000 members functions to serve the entire surgical profession including each of its many specialties. What I learned about the internal workings of the leadership and those who dedicate their time to this work has reinforced my own commitment to the ACS. It is a remarkable organization.
This brings us back to the well-designed and impressive Regents’ room high above Chicago. The hum of numerous disjointed conversations ceased as the Chair of the ACS Board of Regents called the June 2012 meeting to order. My attention is now focused on the proceedings rather than on the beauty of Lake Michigan below. Although every surgical specialty is represented among the 22 Regents, all discussion was invariably directed toward the betterment of the surgical profession as a whole rather than about any specific specialty’s interests.
The Regents are dedicated servants of the ACS. In addition to three one-and-a-half day meetings annually, each of which requires hours of reading in preparation, most of the Regents serve on at least two committees of the Board. Regents are nominated by Fellows, advisory councils, and committees, and are elected by the much larger BOG which represents every state and Canadian province, several countries, and many surgery specialist societies. In addition to assuring that all surgical specialties are represented, bylaws of the ACS state that the President of the ACS and two Canadian Fellows must be among the BOR membership. Based on my 2-year experience, the BOG has exhibited considerable wisdom in their choice of Regents.
The officers of the ACS (President-Elect, First and Second Vice-Presidents and Vice-Presidents-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer), and the officers of the BOG (Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary/Treasurer) attend all BOR meetings and serve in an advisory capacity. Also in attendance and providing essential input are executive members of the ACS staff and, representing the younger ACS membership, the chairs of the Resident Associates Society (RAS) and the Young Fellows Association (YAF). Although only Regents can vote and are therefore responsible for establishing ACS policy, I discovered they welcome participation from all in attendance. I always felt that my contributions and those of other non-voting attendees were thoughtfully and carefully considered.