The new ACS president on restoring optimism in medicine

Henri Ford, MD, dean and chief academic officer of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and an internationally recognized pediatric surgeon, was recently named the 104th president of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Ford joined Becker's to share his plans for the ACS, his vision for the field of medicine and how to address health equity. 

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: In your presidential address, you mentioned a motto for your leadership is achieving the best together. Could you tell me a little more about that?

Dr. Henri Ford: The motto of the American College of Surgeons is to heal all with skill and trust. That very notion of healing all presupposes that we're going to address the needs of all people regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or geography. So, in essence, when you start thinking about what our motto is, it's about achieving health equity for all surgical patients. 

Our job is to prepare surgeons with the necessary tools to deliver the best possible quality healthcare to surgical patients in order to heal all with skill. This can only be done by bringing the entire house of surgery together. We have examples of how a multidisciplinary approach to patient care has been tremendous in improving not only the quality of surgical training programs — because we brought together various surgical disciplines; oral oncology, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, and OB-GYN, we brought all of these disciplines together in order to create a new model for training programs. We've ended up with superior training programs. Likewise, the multidisciplinary approach is really the fundamental underpinning of our approach to trauma care and cancer care. By bringing various disciplines together, we can deliver the best superior outcomes to our patients. 

That's why it's important for us in the house of surgery to understand that we need to continue to work collaboratively together to improve outcomes — in the clinical arena, the advocacy arena and also the clinical education arena. Whichever way you look at it, it's absolutely important for us to engage all surgical disciplines together under the umbrella of the American College of Surgeons so we can be far more impactful for the sake of our patients.

The other component that's extremely important: When I talk about achieving our best together, we need to make sure that we embrace inclusive excellence because we need a fundamental nexus of understanding in implementing the social determinants that may impact the patient's health. This is what we need to achieve in order to achieve our best together. It has to be rooted in embracing inclusive excellence. My overall theme is achieving our best together, hashtag inclusive excellence. Inclusive excellence from the perspective of the surgical disciplines and bringing them all together, but also embracing people from all walks of life.

Q: You mentioned health equity and diversity. Do you have any plans or goals at this point to address that in each of those branches that you mentioned — clinical, academic and advocacy?

HF: Community colleges are very highly engaged in this concept of inclusive excellence. We have a committee that was created by the board of regents and president back in 2021 that focuses on DEI, and I'm trying to broaden that kind of stuff in the sense that it's not just planning, because at the end of the day, our job is to make sure that we equip all surgeons with the tools necessary to be effective. We are not intending on bringing mediocrity into the ACS. In my presidential address, I made what I think is a convincing and unequivocal observation that the ACS has accelerated progress in the quality and quantity of educational offerings to improve the health of surgical patients, and since intentionally embraced inclusive access to the ACS. What we've seen over the last three decades is an embrace of inclusive excellence. And that has coincided with an accelerated proliferation of quality educational programs, and other initiatives to improve surgical care for all patients. And I think that's important. And likewise, we've also been impactful on the global level, because we have our international chapters and we are making sure that they have the skills necessary to be able to heal their patient with skill and trust. So that's the recognition of who we are as not just as surgeons, but even bigger and broader. That is our model. Or rather, what I call our duty. This is our purpose, and that is our calling.

Q: Do you have a game plan in mind that you would like to enact to achieve that?

HF: We have a number of avenues to do this. Part of what we try to do with the department of education is promote lifelong learning. For surgeons, we have all sorts of educational programs that we offer, both at the Clinical Congress that we just had in Boston, which was three days of intense learning that includes didactic courses, skills courses, panels, sessions, lectures, and so forth. It's just a very, very enriching smorgasbord of topics in just about every possible discipline of surgery we showcase. We show the latest advances in the various surgical disciplines, so that's why it's particularly exciting, but we also have other educational programs that we offer throughout the year to help surgeons either develop new skills, maintain their existing skills or develop expertise to better allow them to serve their patients. Sometimes surgeons, especially more senior surgeons, have to retool themselves in terms of the newer skills that are out there, such as robotic surgery and so on. All of those things are accessible through the American College of Surgeons. 

Q: What advice do you have for any surgeons or physicians who see this that feel like your philosophy really resonates with them? How can they follow your lead?

HF: It goes back to my emphasis on the idea that to achieve our best, we cannot be self-contained silos. We need to bring the houses of surgery together to be able to see the patient in a local listening session and to also combine various disciplines to deliver optimal care. One person's disease may impact various things across different disciplines of surgery and medicine. We have the organizational tools and skills to be effective lobbyists to legislators to ensure that surgeons can deliver optimal care to all the patients in our country, because that is our responsibility. We need to meet the needs of rural surgeons, just like we need to meet the needs of urban and suburban surgeons. That work for us can be far more effective. If we come together and coalesce to get legislators to listen to us, we can make impactful changes.

Q: Do you think the idea of coming together and working as a team can be effective treatment or counter the rising levels of burnout that so many healthcare providers are facing?

HF: The first ACS meeting I held after I took over was a surgical coalition meeting, we talked about how we are going to be far more impactful for all surgeons on the issue of burnout. Let's be real, the threat of reimbursement is a real problem that contributes to the burnout. But there are several other elements that we can address effectively as a united body. 

For instance, we talked about the fact that working with a bunch of different groups has registries, or electronic medical records, that are going to be incomplete because what you're putting the data that you put in, say as an ENT or orthopedic surgeon, may be inadequate and disconnected. So one of the things we want to look at is, how do we combine registries under the umbrella of surgeons to be able to longitudinally look at outcomes for our patients? This way you have better capacity to ensure legislators invest properly in the right care delivery models. That's just one dimension. We need to amplify the voice of all the surgical disciplines at the state and federal levels. We need to set standards by coming together. We can set the standards for outpatient surgery and what should be included because typically quality accreditation programs have focused on inpatient care. So it's a bunch of things. Then we can focus on residents and how do we figure out a way to reduce work hours which is also part of the issue of burnout, but at the same time, make sure that the training programs are preparing a competent, well-trained workforce that is culturally diverse and is ultimately better positioned to heal, always with skill and trust. And to do that, we have to make sure surgeons' wellness is being addressed. We have to restore optimism.

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