President's Column: Celebrating 50 Years of Leadership, Education, and Advocacy

Douglas E. Wood, MD

STS News, Winter 2014 -- The 50th Anniversary meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons is less than a month away, and I am excited to see how the meeting is shaping up to celebrate a half century of leadership, education, and advocacy for our specialty.

Although we are a society and a specialty that mostly looks forward, the 50-year mark certainly provides an opportunity to look back and recognize the truly great individuals who had the vision and leadership to found STS. At that time, cardiothoracic surgery was growing rapidly as a specialty, with approximately 1,400 diplomates certified by The American Board of Thoracic Surgery. The prestigious American Association for Thoracic Surgery was a good organization for the elite academic surgeon, but with a cap of 300 members and meetings limited to members and invited guests, a large number of practicing cardiothoracic surgeons were left without a professional home for scientific interchange, education, or networking.

It was a group of younger surgeons and program directors, led initially by Drs. R. Adams Cowley and Francis X. Byron,
who initiated discussion about creating an inclusive specialty society dedicated to cardiothoracic surgery. They, and others, headed a special committee at the John Alexander Society meeting in April 1963 that recommended the founding of a new society of thoracic surgery with the following objectives: 1) to disseminate information on thoracic and  cardiovascular surgery, 2) to promote cardiothoracic surgery as a specialty, and 3) to offer a forum for young men [sic] to present and publish papers in the field.1

Drs. Cowley, Byron, and others felt that it was important to have sponsorship by more senior cardiothoracic surgeons and solicited the support of Dr. J. Maxwell Chamberlain, who had already spent considerable time and effort seeking the opinions and viewpoints of leading US surgeons. Dr. Chamberlain’s New York office subsequently became the headquarters of the movement to establish a new specialty organization, and he became the driving force that ensured the successful establishment of the Society.

In September 1963, a draft constitution and bylaws document was distributed to prospective founding members, followed by a Founder Members meeting on October 31, 1963, at the annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons. The first meeting of the Executive Committee and Council was held in St. Louis in December 1963 where the bylaws were refined, and the Editorial Board of The Annals of Thoracic Surgery was selected. During the second Council meeting, at the AATS meeting in April 1964, the objectives of the Society were established: “to be an organization to improve the quality and practice of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery … by directing efforts toward strengthening and establishing basic research in the area, by promoting the professional development of those surgeons specializing in the field of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, and by providing a forum for and publication of scientific presentations and discussions.”1

It is incredible to see how prescient were these objectives and how consistent they are with the current STS mission and vision. Membership was limited to surgeons certified by ABTS, who limited their practice to thoracic and cardiovascular
surgery and who were established in the field for a minimum of 3 years. However, with no numerical limitation on membership, all individuals who met these criteria were eligible for membership. This provided a national organization within which all practicing cardiothoracic surgeons could be identified and was considered significant in the continued expansion of cardiothoracic surgery as a specialty.

Dr. Paul Samson served as the first president, presiding over the STS inaugural meeting in St. Louis in January 1965. Dr. Chamberlain was honored at the meeting as the catalyst who brought the Society together, as today he is honored each year with the presentation of leading papers offered at the STS Annual Meeting.

The Membership Committee, chaired by Dr. Cowley, reviewed over 700 applications and approved 576 Founder Members. These important Founder Members will be honored at this 50th Anniversary meeting. They have received special invitations and will be recognized and celebrated for helping to start a new specialty society that is now the center and home of cardiothoracic surgery in the United States, and an important participant in the globalization of the specialty.

I am excited that many of these icons of our specialty have agreed to travel to Orlando for this meeting, and I am touched by many of their notes written to me in appreciation for the invitation and recognition. I hope that you will join the Founder Members, along with our youngest members, for what promises to be a great meeting celebrating the innovation, scientific progress, and future of our specialty, while recognizing those who had the vision to make it so.

This is my last column as President of STS. I am humbled by the great privilege to lead this remarkable Society, in my case, most effectively by trying to stay out of the way of the volunteer leaders and staff with their tremendous intelligence, leadership, and vision. I am more than a little sad to be stepping aside after our 50th meeting, but comfortable in my knowledge that STS is in good hands under the leadership of First Vice President Dave Fullerton and others. Thank you for your trust and the honor of the presidency this past year. It is truly the highlight of my professional life.

1. Ellison RG. Significant events in the history of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Ann Thorac Surg 1972; 14:577-604.