Do what’s right for the patient. That statement is the bedrock on which the American College of Surgeons (ACS) stands.
Throughout its nearly 104-year history, the ACS has promoted surgical education and quality improvement. The College’s dedication to education and quality can be traced to the guiding principles of its founder, Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS. In Dr. Martin’s era, the early 20th century, medical education was in a deplorable state, as documented in the well-known Flexner report of 1910.
To help improve surgical education and training, Dr. Martin first established Surgery, Gynecology & Obstetrics (SG&O, now the Journal of the American College of Surgeons) as a practical journal for practicing surgeons, edited by active surgeons. He published an editorial in the journal inviting surgeons to “learn by watching” and encouraged “every physician in the U.S. and Canada who was interested in surgery to observe the clinics in one of the large medical centers.” Approximately 1,300 physicians responded to Dr. Martin’s charge, resulting in the first Clinical Congress of Surgeons of North America (CCSNA), November 7-9, 1910, in Chicago, IL. After the third CCSNA meeting in 1912, Dr. Martin concluded that further change was necessary, which eventually led to the formation of the ACS in November 1913.
The importance of establishing standards for hospitals and surgical training cannot be emphasized enough. These programs fundamentally changed surgical practice and training. If the College had ceased to exist after that achievement, it would have more than fulfilled the expectations of Dr. Martin and other ACS leaders. But this did not happen. Instead, the College continued to inspire quality and to maintain the highest standards for better outcomes through establishment of programs aimed at improving care for cancer and trauma patients.
The ACS Committee on Cancer published a Standardized Method for Reporting Cancer End Results in 1953. In 1965, other organizations partnered with the College to transform this committee into the Commission on Cancer (CoC), which today uses strict criteria and a rigorous on-site evaluation process to accredit more than 1,530 U.S. cancer centers. This accreditation process is used not only for initial verification of achievement of program standards, but also for periodic review for compliance to maintain accreditation.
Early in its history, the College also established a Committee on the Treatment of Fractures, which evolved into what we now know as the Committee on Trauma (COT). The COT’s guidelines for hospitals to attain or maintain verification as trauma centers—Resources for Optimal Care of the Injured Patient—was first issued in 1976 and now is in its sixth edition.
Another seminal event in trauma took place in 1976—an airplane crash involving James K. Styner, MD, FACS, and his family, in rural Nebraska. His wife died on impact, and his children were severely injured. Angered by the delays his family experienced in receiving appropriate care, Dr. Styner called for the development of adequate facilities and standardized approaches to care for severely injured patients. He combined forces with Paul E. “Skip” Collicott, MD, FACS, and other Nebraska surgeons, to develop the Advanced Trauma Life Support® program, which introduces physicians and other health care professionals around the world to best practices for initial evaluation and management of trauma patients.
ACS Regent Lenworth M. Jacobs, Jr., MD, MPH, FACS, has led more recent COT initiatives, including development of the Advanced Trauma Operative Management® course and the Hartford ConsensusTM. This panel—composed of trauma care professionals and government officials—developed the Stop the Bleed program—an initiative aimed at enhancing survival from mass casualty and active shooter events.
Another important committee that the College established to ensure surgeons are prepared to do what’s right for the patient is the Committee on Emerging Surgical Technology and Education (CESTE). Launched in 1992 with the late C. James Carrico, MD, FACS, as the inaugural Chair, CESTE was charged with developing processes to evaluate emerging surgical technology for safety and effectiveness, creating standardized education programs, and measuring outcomes. Two of the College’s most important education and quality programs sprang from CESTE—the Accredited Education Institutes, under the leadership of Ajit K. Sachdeva, MD, FACS, Director, ACS Division of Education, and the Division of Research and Optimal Patient Care, first led by R. Scott Jones, MD, FACS, and now under the purview of Clifford Y. Ko, MD, MS, FACS.
The future is in your hands
Unquestionably, the ACS and its leaders have a rich history of doing what’s right for the patient. The future, however, belongs to you. I want to encourage you to participate in all the activities of your College at the local, state, and national levels. Establish personal relationships with leaders. Be an advocate for our education and quality programs. I am confident that there are those among you who will become the leaders who will continue the evolution of the College and inspire quality, maintain the highest standards, and ensure better outcomes.
Dr. Townsend is the Robertson-Poth Distinguished Chair in General Surgery, department of surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Galveston; professor of surgery, department of surgery, professor of physician assistant studies, School of Allied Health Sciences; and graduate faculty in the cell biology program, UTMB. He is the 97th President of the ACS.