I was recently reminded of the importance of face-to-face meetings to gain understanding and to learn from the experiences of others. In this case, the lesson was delivered in the idyllic setting of Sunriver, Oregon, where the Oregon and Washington chapters of the American College of Surgeons held their annual meeting. I always come away from this meeting energized and inspired by the shared experiences of young and old, urban and rural. This meeting exceeded all expectations in the quality of the presentations but also, more importantly, in the quality of the exchange of ideas and viewpoints among surgeons across the full spectrum of practice types, geographical locations, and generations.
Community and rural surgeons were both well represented at this meeting, perhaps because our Oregon chapter president, Keith Thomas, is a rural surgeon; he had invited rural surgeon extraordinaire Tyler Hughes to be the keynote speaker; and the overarching theme of the meeting was “The Right Care in the Right Place.” The program featured controversial topics that were presented in a way that respected all views and shed more light than heat on the subject: a debate about whether (and which) cancers needed to be referred to tertiary centers, an exploration of how surgical care for all might be improved by regionalization in a matrix that could allow all patients to access timely and appropriate care, and even a discussion of a strategy through which we might build consensus for the prevention of firearm injuries and deaths while avoiding the “demonization of the enemy” that currently occurs whenever the subject is mentioned.
The residents’ and fellows’ presentations have evolved over the past few decades to include a broader range of research topics than those in prior meetings. This year, trainees gave papers not only on the treatment of specific surgical conditions or basic science studies but also on quality improvement, patient safety, ethics, end-of-life care, and cutting-edge technologies. Those who presented their research displayed the very best attributes of the millennial generation: creativity, altruism, and a commitment to make our shared future world a better, safer, more humane place. They fielded questions from the audience like “old pros,” demonstrating an impressive understanding of their subjects as well as a passion for their work.
Although the accelerating demands on our lives have led some to question whether the time required to attend a chapter meeting is worth the money and effort, I would argue that it is crucial to our future to do so. As surgical practice becomes more specialized and “siloed,” it is critical that we reaffirm what unites us rather than focus on what separates us. It is easy to attribute ill motives and malevolent characteristics to someone who sees things differently than you do. Is much more difficult to do so when you spend time with that person and learn about him or her as an individual. Local ACS chapter meetings accomplish that and more. Older surgeons nearing retirement and worried about the future of their communities can meet and mingle with residents and fellows who might become future partners. Former colleagues from medical school or residency who have pursued different practice paths can reacquaint themselves with one another, relive the good (and perhaps bad) old times, and share a chuckle or two. Surgeons who practice in the “ivory tower” can gain appreciation for the challenges of practicing in a resource-limited facility. Those from competing institutions or practices can learn that the “other” is facing the same issues and that common strategies for success might be found. We can all gain a greater understanding that the other person’s problems aren’t that different or less complex than ours.
In addition to providing a stimulating program, a successful chapter meeting requires skillful planning and execution by an experienced chapter manager. Our Oregon chapter is fortunate to have Harvey Gail, an outstanding manager who takes care of those essential tasks that make the meeting run smoothly so that we can focus on the substance of the meeting itself.
Attending a chapter meeting requires a relatively short time commitment of three days away from home – including a weekend – and a tank of gas. Some have suggested that holding the meeting in the largest city in the region would lessen travel time demands for many, but doing so would mean losing the low-key setting that creates the perfect atmosphere for developing professional and personal relationships and building a true community. The future survival of our profession depends on finding better, novel solutions to our common problems; we can accomplish that only by sharing our diverse perspectives and identifying solutions that meet all of our needs and those of our patients.
To those of you who rarely (or never) have attended a chapter meeting, you need to go. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from your fellow surgeons, who, I guarantee, are more like you than they are different.
Dr. Deveney is a professor of surgery and the vice chair of education in the department of surgery at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland. She is the coeditor of ACS Surgery News.