President's Column: Making a Difference

Dr. Dearani prepared his first column just as the COVID-19 pandemic started gripping the US. See page 1 for his message about how STS is responding to the crisis.


Joseph A. Dearani, MD

STS News, Spring 2020 — Let me start my first column as STS President by thanking you—our members—for electing me to this position. I also want to thank Dr. Bob Higgins and congratulate him for a most successful year that culminated with one of the most engaging and highly attended annual meetings in recent history.

Serving as our Society’s President is the highest honor that you could achieve in the profession; I am honored by this opportunity to make a difference.

In this role, I have a chance to work with colleagues at STS, as well as cardiothoracic surgery leaders throughout the world, to address challenges, take advantage of opportunities, and make the profession better for tomorrow’s practicing surgeon and the patients who need our help.

Working for You

One of the things that makes STS so unique and so great is that it is a member-centric, patient-centric Society. I cannot overemphasize this point enough. There are many great things that STS does for members and our patients. During my term as President, I want to make sure that we share more about all of the important things we are doing.

Among them is our annual STS Legislative Fly-In in Washington, DC. At press time, we had just canceled the Fly-In and other in-person courses due to the coronavirus pandemic. I plan on keeping members informed about how STS is helping during this crisis via a series of videos and emails.

We are facing a lot of unknowns right now, but as cardiothoracic surgeons, we know how to take charge and get the job done. I will do my best to help you through this crisis—and I am confident that we will be stronger as a result.

Focusing on the Entire Specialty

Although my primary professional focus is congenital heart surgery, my commitment is to the whole specialty—adult cardiac, general thoracic, and congenital. I will do my best to address all of the challenges in each of these areas. The two leading causes of death in this country are heart disease and lung cancer. The most common birth defect is a congenital cardiac anomaly. As cardiothoracic surgeons, we are ideally positioned to ask questions and solve problems that will have the greatest impact in terms of the number of people affected.

Joseph A. Dearani, MD (left), with Immediate Past President Robert S.D. Higgins, MD, MSHA, was elected STS President for 2020-2021 during the Annual Membership (Business) Meeting in New Orleans this January.

One way we are able to solve problems is through the STS National Database. 

With the recent phase 1 launch of the Database (see page 11), we took a bold step forward to address changing practice needs at a time when the public and the profession expect near-perfect outcomes. We have a demanding specialty with high expectations, and the transformed Database offers you real-time access to your data in a highly secure, interactive environment that will help accelerate benchmarking, provide earlier recognition of potential weaknesses, and better adjust quality improvement initiatives. 

As we roll out the next phases of the Database, we will continue to refine and innovate, making it easier and faster to access actionable clinical data and make real-time adjustments in treatment. 

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning

Cardiothoracic surgery is a specialty that’s constantly innovating and evolving. It’s a specialty that has a unique interface with technology. When you examine the potential role or place of artificial intelligence, machine learning, collaboration, and connectedness across other specialties and registries, it’s really exciting to think about how it will be better for our patients and the specialty. 

STS has a perfect opportunity to be the model for others as we move from evidence-based medicine to intelligence-based medicine. 

The STS National Database is ideally suited to apply machine learning opportunities because of its 30-year track record of trust, 8 million procedure records, and large number of validated data points. The transformed Database platform gives us not only the opportunity to look back and see how we’ve done, but also the opportunity to look forward, see where we are going, and apply data from the National Death Index to examine long-term outcomes. 

Although my primary professional focus is congenital heart surgery, my commitment is to the whole specialty.

Looking Forward

Over the next year as you get to know me better, you’ll observe that I listen more than I talk. I believe strongly in transparency and accessibility, and I want to know your professional pain points so that I can help make a difference. 

I also strongly believe in diversity. We are lucky that more women are interested in cardiothoracic surgery, and our specialty is better because of that. Dr. Higgins worked hard during his presidential year to include more women and underrepresented groups in the governance structure. He also launched the STS Leadership Summit to help advance the careers of the younger generation of surgeons. Our 2020 summit hit a home run, and we will keep building on that legacy.   

In the coming months, we will continue strategic planning meetings (see page 9) to identify key focal points and create a new Society roadmap for the next 3 to 5 years. We are grateful to the many of you who took the time to complete the 2019 STS Practice Survey and 2018 Member-Needs Assessment. We are carefully reviewing the results of these surveys and will incorporate your feedback as we prepare the new STS Strategic Plan. 

As we move forward, I see a bright future for the Society and for cardiothoracic surgery. Our specialty combines important qualities of intellect, critical thinking skills, judgment, technical abilities, and perseverance—it’s never over until it’s over. No other specialty really captures all of these ingredients. That’s what I love about cardiothoracic surgery, and that’s why I am committed to STS and making a difference.