Get Involved, then Show Up and Do the Work

By Douglas E. Wood, MD

September 27, 2020

Over the years I’ve been asked many times, “Why should I get involved in STS?”. Ironically, I have just as frequently been asked, “How can I get more involved in STS?”.

I have had the privilege of participating in The Society of Thoracic Surgeons for the majority of my career, since attending the annual meeting in New Orleans as a resident, to the most recent New Orleans meeting at the beginning of this year. (Was it really just a few months ago? It seems like a decade since the intervening pandemic disrupted everything in our lives, including in-person meetings.)

I have enjoyed working on a variety of committees, workforces, and task forces, ranging from education and ethics to advocacy and finance, while also having the privilege of serving in STS leadership roles that have afforded me personal growth, as well as the opportunity to “give back to the specialty.”

To those who asked, “Why should I get involved with STS?”, I invite you to look at the breath of activities within the Society and recognize how engagement gives you a chance to challenge yourself, learn new things, network and partner with others, and make a rewarding professional contribution that extends beyond your local practice and community.

As cardiothoracic surgeons, we each have the enormous privilege and gratification of our daily clinical work; we have the honor of helping our patients live longer and live better lives. Many of us also are involved in teaching and a variety of administrative roles within our hospitals and departments. Getting engaged with STS workforces and task forces affords us a whole other opportunity to use our talents to advance the field of cardiothoracic surgery in a lasting way that extends well beyond our local community.

One of the lasting benefits of STS engagement is the fostering of lifelong professional relationships and friendships with smart, inspiring, and impactful leaders in our specialty from across the United States and from around the world.

STS work frequently expands our horizons as we learn new things (health care policy, physician reimbursement, guideline development, etc.). I will confess there were times I felt in over my head as I started a new committee, but every time this was overshadowed by the satisfaction of learning a new “skill,” and of being inspired by the colleagues from whom I was privileged to learn. In fact, one of the lasting benefits of STS engagement is the fostering of lifelong professional relationships and friendships with smart, inspiring, and impactful leaders in our specialty from across the United States and from around the world.

Long after the committee work is done, these friendships and relationships persist, and I can honestly say that my own career is much richer because of the involvement I have had with these surgeon colleagues within STS. Like most things, what you get out of STS is what you put into it. If you question the value of STS or your role within the organization, I would ask you, “What have you done to get involved in STS?”. Take the challenge. Get involved in STS, and I’m sure that you will find it as professionally and personally rewarding as I have throughout my career.

For those of you who want to take the challenge and get involved in STS, I encourage you to consider the self-nomination process, which allows you to look at the broad spectrum of society activities, and nominate yourself for an area you are interested in. You may know other surgeons who are involved and have leadership positions in STS. They may also be good resources for advice about STS opportunities, as well as supporters of your self-nomination. It is important that you not get discouraged if you are not immediately appointed to a committee or workforce, as there typically are many more surgeons applying for positions than are available. Although it may take some time to get appointed, it is very likely you will be given the opportunity become involved if you are interested and persistent.

Finally, my most important advice for those who are interested in advancing within positions at STS and the potential of progressive leadership, what is most important is to simply “show up and do the work.”

All cardiothoracic surgeons are busy people, and it’s easy to become passive about a workforce appointment and wait for the work to come to you. It is critical to show up for the meetings, be involved and do the work within the committee, and be a strong partner with the others in your group.

Volunteer, be prepared, speak up, and don’t be shy; these are all innate traits of cardiothoracic surgeons so use them in your STS committee work as well. People will notice and respect you, leaders will hear about you and promote you, and your opportunity for progressive positions with STS will be directly proportional to your willingness to engage with enthusiasm, optimism, and persistence.

Like most other things, you will likely get back more than you gave. My own involvement with STS has been the most rewarding aspect of my professional career. I encourage you to give it a try; get involved with STS, and I guarantee your career will be even more rewarding and more fun.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.