Andrew James Lodge MD

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) Hosts 58th Annual Meeting

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) recently hosted its 58th Annual Meeting. This was planned as an in-person meeting in Miami, FL, anticipating improvements in the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to concerns about the relatively new COVID-19 omicron variant, the conference was shifted to a completely virtual format just weeks before the scheduled start date. STS President Sean Grondin, the STS staff and the Program Committee should be commended for making this pivot virtually (no pun intended) seamlessly and providing an outstanding conference experience for all attendees.

Andrew James Lodge MD mentions that there were many notable events during the conference including Dr. Grondin’s Presidential address and lectures during the plenary sessions from notable speakers Drs. Henri R. Ford, Amy C. Edmondson, and Cameron D. Wright. Another notable session that Dr. Lodge attended personally and think deserves further mention occurred during the breakout sessions under the dual headings of Congenital and Career Development. This session, entitled “Career Progression – Personal Insights Along the Journey” was somewhat unusual for this type of a national conference. It was moderated by Dr. Jennifer Nelson from Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, FL and Dr. Adil Hussain from the University of Utah School of Medicine/Primary Children’s Hospital. It was entirely devoted not to painstakingly acquired data, but to the stories, observations, and advice of several surgeons at different stages of their careers. The purpose of the session was to provide a personal look at, and discussion of, some the challenges that thoracic surgeons (particularly congenital heart surgeons) face during the course of their careers.

The first talk was given by Dr. Reilly Hobbs, also of the University of Utah School of Medicine/Primary Children’s Hospital. This talk focused on concluding the long training period required to become a congenital heart surgeon and the challenges of finding a first job. Hobbs highlighted the issues involved in obtaining a job in a highly scrutinized and high pressure field in which job opportunities may be few and far between. The second talk was given by Dr. Elizabeth Stephens, a junior faculty member at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Stephens candidly discussed the challenges presented to a congenital heart surgeon early in her career including making critical decisions, performing high-stress and high-risk operations, gaining the trust and confidence of one’s colleagues, and learning on the job. According to Dr. Lodge, both of these young surgeons stressed the importance of building a network of support and mentorship from experienced individuals, and not trying to simply find their own way.

The next talk in the session was given by Dr. Stephanie Fuller, a mid-career surgeon who has spent her entire career at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This lecture addressed the topic of considering other job opportunities and was cleverly titled “Opportunities vs. Equity – Should I stay or should I go?”. In this talk, Fuller discussed the pros and cons of remaining at a single institution for an extended period of time or one’s entire career versus moving on to one or more new opportunities. Following this, Dr. Chris Calderone from the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX presented his thoughts on ascending to the position of Chief of a Division or Department based on his experience as a chief at two different institutions. The session was concluded with a lecture by Dr. Ross Ungerleider who is now retired from the active practice of surgery. Ungerleider’s career was marked by landmark contributions to research and the practice of congenital heart surgery, leadership in national organizations and several institutions, and a transition to a non-surgical focus. His talk focused on some of the many human aspects of practicing and aging as a heart surgeon, as well as thoughts about developing and moving on to other interests. Notably, Dr. Ungerleider, along with his wife Jamie who is a Ph.D. psychologist, has continued to work actively, now focusing on team and relationship building for professionals.

Each of these lectures was thoughtful and personal. In sum, they provided valuable information, insights, and food for thought for surgeons at any point along the career pathway. The STS is to be congratulated for including such sessions in its meeting curriculum.

By Andrew Lodge MD

Andrew James Lodge MD