Executive Director's Column

On STS Independence
By Robert A. Wynbrandt & Sylvia Novick

STS News, Summer 2012 -- Continuing the management team’s series of guest columns for STS News, Sylvia Novick calls on the entire membership to join our staff in celebrating 10 years of STS management independence. Sylvia will be celebrating an anniversary of her own this summer – her eighth as STS Director of Finance and Administration. In that capacity, she oversees all facets of the Society’s financial life as well as our Human Resources and other administrative functions. Prior to joining the STS staff, Sylvia’s career included a lengthy stint at The Joint Commission as its Chief Financial Officer.

Most people in the United States think of July 4 as being Independence Day, but for those of us who hold STS near and dear to our hearts, we know that it’s really June 1. That’s the day in 2002 when the Society no longer relied on an association management firm, but instead embarked on self-management. That’s the day when STS opened its headquarters office in Chicago to serve its members and the specialty.

During these past 10 years of self-management, STS engaged in an ever-increasing scope of activities in support of its mission. In so doing, the organization also experienced significant growth.

Let’s start with basic real estate. The original Chicago headquarters lease signed with the American College of Surgeons in 2002 was for approximately one-quarter of a floor. Today, STS leases the full floor, with a small portion sublet to the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. In addition, STS leases office space from the College in Washington, D.C., for its Government Relations staff.

Back in 2002, when STS became “independent”, the Society employed 9.5 full-time employees. Today, STS has more than 50 authorized positions, including three in the D.C. office. Staff growth has been steady over the years, commensurate with increased volumes of activity and new initiatives.

The number of Society members also has grown substantially, from 4,084 on June 1, 2002, to 6,479 on June 1, 2012. Active Membership has increased by approximately 25 percent, International Membership has more than doubled, Senior Membership is up nearly 50 percent, Candidate Membership has nearly doubled, and the new categories of Pre-Candidate and Associate Membership have added 165 and 320 members, respectively.

Participation in the STS National Database has also seen tremendous growth, with the number of participant groups in the Adult Cardiac Surgery Database more than doubling (510 to 1,061, including the recent addition of two international participants), the Congenital Heart Surgery Database more than tripling (32 to 104), and the General Thoracic Surgery Database growing from one (yes, one) on June 1, 2002, to 226. As this initiative has grown, so has interest in the data among government, payors, and the public at large, so much so that STS now publicly reports data not only through its own website but also through Consumer Reports.

Back on June 1, 2002, STS was engaged in two research initiatives—an Agency for Healthcare Research Quality grant and a clinical trial. Ten years later, the Society has six active and 12 pending research projects.

Educational offerings have been expanded to include interactive sessions, wet labs, and online courses such as the STS Annual Meeting Online and STS/AATS Tech-Con Online. Parenthetically, many of the newer courses were established in collaboration with other medical specialty societies in furtherance of the STS strategic plan.

Although STS initially was responsible only for itself, just a few short months later, the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association retained the Society for management services, followed by five more thoracic surgery organizations—the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association, Women in Thoracic Surgery, the Joint Council on Thoracic Surgery Education, the Thoracic Surgery Foundation for Research and Education, and CTSNet.

The Society also became more visible on Capitol Hill, as staff and surgeon leaders joined forces on both legislative and regulatory efforts to meet the needs of membership and to further the specialty. STS is now a recognized leader in health care advocacy, both before Congress and with government agencies such as the FDA and CMS.

STS has also experienced steady financial growth during these 10 years, despite the ups and downs of the economy and while keeping its membership dues constant since 2002. At the time of STS management independence, net assets equaled less than half of the organization’s budgeted annual expenses. A decade later, the Society has more than a year’s worth of budgeted expenses in reserve.

Beyond the wide range of services provided to its members, the Society also has given back to the thoracic surgery community it serves, making significant contributions to worthy organizations such as the Joint Council and TSFRE. In addition, last year the Board of Directors adopted a new strategic plan calling for a major financial commitment to establish the STS Research Center so that more research projects can be performed, drawing on the STS National Database and utilizing in-house talent.

These 10 years of “independent” happenings and related STS growth have occurred as a result of an active membership and an extremely engaged volunteer leadership working together with a committed staff that values the overarching core values of professionalism and excellence.

And what’s in store for the next 10 years? As Buzz Lightyear would say, “To infinity and beyond!”