Executive Director's Column: On STS History, Future, and Big Change

Robert A. Wynbrandt, Executive Director & General Counsel

STS News, Winter 2014 -- Over the past few months, I have been privileged to be involved in the creation of the Annals supplement on the Society’s past 50 years that recently arrived in your mailbox. For a former history major and a 27-year STS veteran, it was a plum assignment to assist an STS All-Star team, led by Historian Nick Kouchoukos and Editor Hank Edmunds, with major contributions from former and current STS Directors of Marketing and Communications Nancy Puckett and Natalie Boden, as well as our incomparable Managing Editor, Heide Pusztay, and her colleagues at the Annals Editorial Office in this effort.

As one would expect, a number of recurring themes emerge when one inspects any organization’s 50-year history. For
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, primary among these are a stream of dedicated and forward-thinking surgeon leaders, the evolution of a supporting professional staff that has come to play a genuine “partner” role as anticipated by Past President Doug Mathisen one memorable Saturday morning in February of 2002, as the Society prepared to embark on the current era of self-management, and a specialty that has constantly adapted—oftentimes (and admirably) of its own volition and ingenuity in the interest of patient care rather than by government dictate.

My column in the Winter edition of STS News traditionally has served two important functions: a look back at the STS year then ending and a look ahead at what’s in store. On the “look back” front, my recent immersion in STS history has only served to reinforce the notion that the only real constant in life is change, and it seems that the only constant for STS—an organization founded on the need for revolutionary change in the specialty—has been big change.

Big changes happened for the Society and the specialty this past year. Sadly, we lost two giants who were both Presidents and Annals Editors—Herb Sloan and Tom Ferguson—in rapid succession, and more recently Past President George Magovern Sr. We (read: “in large part President Doug Wood,” who like many STS Presidents before him is nothing short of a force of nature when advocating for big change in the interest of patient care) helped cajole the United States Preventive Services Task Force into finally issuing a long-awaited lung cancer screening recommendation. And we, along with our partners at the American College of Cardiology, again made history through the STS/ACC TVT Registry™, for the first time prompting an FDA labeling change not on the basis of a lengthy Investigational Device Exemption study, but rather on the basis of hard data from a well-designed and highly respected clinical database.

And big changes are in the offing for STS and the specialty in the year ahead. During the Business Meeting in Orlando on Monday afternoon, January 27, the voting membership will select a new Editor-Elect to succeed Hank Edmunds in 2015, after 15 years of distinguished service. The voting membership also will—for the first time—elect an independent member of the public to serve on the STS Board of Directors. The conclusion of the Annual Meeting will bring us new chairs for our Finance Committee, the Council on Quality, Research and Patient Safety, and the Council on Health Policy and Relationships, succeeding Past Presidents John Mayer, Fred Grover, and Sid Levitsky, respectively. And later this spring, Fred Edwards will hand the baton to a new Director of the STS Research Center after 3 eventful years at the helm of this new enterprise.

Also in 2014, the organization will be undertaking various initiatives emanating from an STS National Database Think Tank session held in Chicago this past fall, as well as a major workforce study under the leadership of John Ikonomidis and the STS Task Force on Thoracic Surgery Practice and Access. The specialty at large will be grappling with further implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as well as the prospect of SGR reform and alternative payment models that could significantly impact all cardiothoracic surgeons in the United States. Further ahead, 50 years of history tells us that we will see big change in the form of new procedures, new approaches to old procedures, new devices and  pharmaceuticals, and increasing diversity within the profession itself, all undoubtedly accompanied by an STS constant: a continuing supply of Doug Woods, forces of nature in the interest of patient care.

On behalf of a staff that appreciates its role as a supporting partner with the membership of an organization that is rich in both history and mission, as we initiate and respond to the constancy of big change together, I wish you and yours a happy and healthy 2014. All of us look forward to celebrating 50 years with you in Orlando!