President's Column: What Do I Get Out of My STS Membership?

Keith S. Naunheim, MD, President

STS News, Fall 2018 -- On occasion, a graduating resident or STS member will ask me if membership in the Society is really “worth the money.” It’s true that $750 is more than just pocket change, and it can cover the purchase of many cool things:

1. A summer-weight suit from Brooks Brothers (winter-weight will run another $300)
2. Drinks and dinner for six at a fine steakhouse (with an inexpensive California varietal)
3. Three opening day box seats at Fenway, Wrigley, or Dodger Stadium (get ready for $12 beers)
4. One year of Active Member dues in The Society of Thoracic Surgeons

Many, if not most, cardiothoracic surgeons would splurge for the first three items listed above without a second thought; yet some question the value of that last item and balk at the idea of paying those annual dues. The common question is “What the heck does that get me?”.

Yeah, we all know that your dues get you a subscription to The Annals of Thoracic Surgery (currently $509 alone for non-members), an opportunity for substantial savings on participation in the STS National Database, free quality measure reporting to CMS that prevents reimbursement penalties, complimentary subscriptions to STS News and other newsletters, as well as discounted registration rates for the Annual Meeting and other educational programs. Yet some wonder if that is enough, and the question is still asked: “Am I getting real value for my annual dues?”.

As the current President and former Secretary, I have been on the “inside” for many years, so some would accuse me of bias and being a “homer.” Still, while I have no doubt that we get the full bang for our bucks, I also am certain there are those who remain skeptical. To them, I would suggest:

Come to the STS offices in Chicago (21st floor at Erie and Saint Clair). Spend a day watching 65 people working at hundreds of tasks, all of which are designed to make your practice more successful. The ongoing education you require to stay at the forefront of care is among their highest priorities. Go ahead and shadow STS staff for the week before the Annual Meeting to appreciate the thousands of hours of effort devoted to providing you a streamlined and integrated educational experience, along with unparalleled networking opportunities. Watch throughout the year as they help provide both live and electronic education for all of us in structural heart disease, coronary revascularization, mechanical circulatory assistance, critical care, and thoracic oncology—just to name a few. If we don’t continue to learn and evolve, we will be left in the dust. They make that learning possible.

Go to Washington, DC, to participate in an STS Legislative Fly-In. Get educated about how government really works—not only the fantasies we were taught in high school civics class, but also the reality of Realpolitik Congressional legislation. Watch our staff and volunteer leaders attend meetings with Congressional staffers, as well as officials from CMS, the FDA, and the NIH. They are working to defend the best interests of you and your patients, whether it is regarding continued funding for cardiothoracic research, coverage for lung cancer screening, or the negotiation of fair reimbursement for new procedures. Thousands of hours of staff and volunteer time are spent each year pursuing these objectives on your behalf.

It’s the best damn bargain you’ll get all year.

Accompany STS volunteer leaders (there are more than 400, many donating hundreds of volunteer hours annually) to Medicare headquarters for a day and watch them fight on your behalf against the increasing regulatory burden. Listen as they argue against contrived, inexact quality measures like MIPS or Meaningful Use and instead convince CMS to utilize real, objective, clinical data from our own Database to make determinations regarding the quality of care. 

Attend a joint meeting between volunteer leaders of STS and international sister societies from Asia, Europe, and Latin America (there are more than a dozen such meetings annually). Find out how we are all collaborating internationally to address the standardization of technology such as valve sizing, the optimization of ongoing education, and the delivery of care both in our own countries and to the world’s underserved populations.

Review the effort and output of the 200 cardiothoracic surgeons whose research has been supported by The Thoracic Surgery Foundation, the Society’s charitable arm. Those research efforts range from blood cardioplegia and hypothermic arrest to percutaneous valve implantation, arrhythmia surgery, and minimally invasive surgery of all types. What you do all day and every day is at least partially the product of research funded by our Society. This is where we forge the tools needed to ensure our continued relevance in health care.

The reality is that the $750 you pay for dues each year goes to support the efforts of a complex organization that solely exists to serve you and your patients; and thanks to careful financial management and the Society’s success in generating non-dues revenue, that dues number has not gone up since 2002. That money supports ongoing research to keep our specialty relevant. It ensures education and training opportunities throughout the year to keep surgeons, perfusionists, and nurses current. It supports our societal efforts to prevent unfair pay adjustments and to minimize burdensome regulations. And through the Database, surgeons and hospitals receive accurate, specific clinical outcomes allowing for effective quality assessment and improvement. Without your dues supporting these efforts, our modern-day surgical practices likely would not exist—and neither would our careers.

So how do I answer the “Is it worth it?” question?

It’s the best damn bargain you’ll get all year.