Executive Director's Column: On Fire

Robert A. Wynbrandt, Executive Director & General Counsel

STS News, Fall 2018 -- Late one afternoon in 1989, a team of lawyers descended on the executive offices of the American Library Association to make a pitch for the ALA’s “business” in response to a recently issued Request for Proposals. Details of the experience are somewhat fuzzy 29 years later, but two things stand out: (a) the youngest member of the team was mostly preoccupied with keeping his lunch down, as he was more nervous about making a good showing in front of his senior partners – especially a newly recruited senior partner participating in the pitch – than he was about impressing the ALA management team; and (b) said newly recruited senior partner, Paul Gebhard, used an expression that day that was unfamiliar to his gastrointestinally challenged younger partner, but remains memorable decades later. Specifically, Paul tried to convey to the prospective client a special quality he perceived among his new colleagues in the firm’s Association Practice Group that would serve the Association well if it were to retain the firm, stating that they practiced law “with a fire in the belly.” (In hindsight, Paul’s use of that term bordered on omniscient, given the younger lawyer’s nervous stomach. One other factoid about Paul that may be of interest to readers of STS News is that he was the individual credited with having coined a term – in a 1957 brief written on behalf of his longstanding client, the American College of Surgeons – that became quite famous within the surgical community: “informed consent.”)

Based on 22 years of work that exposed me to the operations of more than 200 associations before I was employed by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, I can report with confidence that cardiothoracic surgeons and their teams possess a fire in the belly, both on matters of patient care and on matters of engagement with their medical special society. Recent cases in point with respect to the latter: earlier this year, more than 1,100 abstracts were submitted for consideration in connection with the upcoming 55th STS Annual Meeting, when only 137 could be accepted for oral presentation (see page 14 for important information regarding the opportunity to submit “late-breaking abstracts”); 74 self-nominations were submitted in September for consideration of appointment to STS governance positions, in a context where we are fortunate to be able to accommodate 20 self-nominees in a typical year; and our charitable arm, The Thoracic Surgery Foundation, received 203 applications for its various awards in calendar year 2018, when associated funding will only support a total of approximately 60 awards.

And if it’s true that STS members tend to come equipped with a fire in the belly, then it’s also the case that a constant stream of STS surgeon leaders has emerged, year after year since 1964, with a five-alarm fire. Of course not all leaders express their passion for the specialty and this organization in the same way. For every Bob Replogle and Joe Bavaria (both among the more “demonstrative” in the pantheon of STS leaders) there is a Fred Grover or a Mark Allen who gets the job done more quietly; the common denominator is the fire. And our job on the staff is to match that fire in our respective areas of expertise and execution so that the organization can successfully achieve its mission of enhancing the ability of cardiothoracic surgeons to provide the highest quality patient care through education, research, and advocacy. 

View this image in full size (zoom in to see a dedication to the Society's Past Presidents on the left and the STS Core Values on the right)

STS President Keith Naunheim is one of those individuals who appeared on the STS scene, in 1989 as a member of what was then called the “Ad Hoc Committee for Cardiothoracic Surgical Practice Guidelines,” with a roaring fire in the belly. That fire later spread to the entire range of Society activities, most notably in the realms of coding, reimbursement, and broader matters of health care policy.

Keith brought some of that fire with him to a special “unveiling” ceremony with the staff on September 28, as we dedicated a new Presidents Wall at our headquarters office in Chicago (see photo). After first paying homage to the 53 STS Presidents who preceded him, he turned his attention to the staff and acknowledged its critical contributions to STS success, identifying specific individuals by name as examples: a terrific way to fan the flames and motivate the team. (As all successful leaders know, recognition is a powerful accelerant.)

Keith’s appearance in our office for that unveiling ceremony coincided with the Society’s Annual Meeting program planning session held the following day, with approximately 30 volunteer leaders and staff in attendance and setting the table for the call to action that follows. Under the leadership of Annual Meeting Workforce Chair Rick Lee, STS volunteer leaders and staff have joined forces to create an innovative and exciting STS 55th Annual Meeting program (see page 1). And if Keith’s 2010 STSA Presidential Address is any indication, his presentation alone on Monday morning will be worth the price of admission. Registration is now open, so make your plans to join us in San Diego; it will be the hottest event of the year!