President's Column: STS Members Elect Their First Public Director

David A. Fullerton, MD

STS News, Spring 2014 -- The Society is extremely pleased to announce that Mr. Tony Coelho has been elected by STS members as the first Public Director on the Board of Directors. A former US Congressman, Mr. Coelho was elected as a Representative from California in 1978 and served until 1989. While in Congress, he was elected as House Minority Whip in 1986. Mr. Coelho is credited as the primary author and sponsor of the American with Disabilities Act, which was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Mr. Coelho is currently Chairman of the Partnership to Improve Patient Care, a diverse group of health care organizations that advocates for patients and clinicians to collaborate on comparative clinical effectiveness research priorities. He also is a member of the STS/ACC TVT Registry™ Stakeholder Advisory Group, serves on the Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors, and is active with the American Association of People with Disabilities.

The addition of a Public Director to its Board of Directors marks an important milestone in the evolution of STS. The Society has always been a leader in American medicine, and this addition solidifies its leadership position among medical specialties.

Traditionally, the composition of a professional medical society’s board, including that of STS, is made up of leaders from within the respective medical specialty. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons is the largest professional society in our specialty. It is highly respected with a long-standing tradition of serving our patients, our specialty, and the health of the population. The traditional composition and functions of the STS Board has served the organization well for its first 50 years. But while such composition does provide subject expertise and directors who are committed to the success of the organization, it may lead to blind spots for the organization as the environment changes.

The contemporary practice of cardiothoracic surgery is rapidly changing. Notable among the changes are the expectations of our patients in particular and the public at large. As a specialty, we must meet the demands for greater transparency in clinical outcomes, financial data, and the desires of patients and families for greater joint decision making in their care. These, in turn, require a concerted effort on the part of our profession to optimally incorporate our patients and their families into the processes of care.

Our profession must assume a greater role in helping the public with a better understanding of disease processes and management, as well as surgical procedures. To do so, a Public Director on the STS Board of Directors will be extremely valuable.

The board of directors of an organization has several specific responsibilities. Among them are the responsibilities to set organizational direction and provide effective oversight. A board of directors must think strategically in order to help set the vision for the future of the organization.

As STS goes forward in a changing environment, a keen understanding of its obligations to the public is essential. The addition of the first Public Director to its Board of Directors will help STS fulfill its mission "to enhance the ability of cardiothoracic surgeons to provide the highest quality patient care through education, research, and advocacy." The addition of a Public Director will provide invaluable insight and perspective as to how the Society may best achieve this mission in service to the public. It will help STS understand what the public wants from us as a profession and how the Society can best meet the needs of our patients and the public.

In short, the addition of a Public Director to the STS Board of Directors will help assure that the Society is aligned with the needs of our patients and the public. Mr. Tony Coelho is the ideal individual to be the first to hold this position.