The mission of the AAS is “to Inspire and develop young academic surgeons.” There is no greater exemplification of this mission than the Academic Surgical Congress. As in the military where the mantra, “One Team. One Fight. One Family.” is often drilled into our collective consciousness, I could see this everywhere at ASC22, and often it was personified during the small moments in between the sessions.
I started the day with the Mentor-Mentee breakfast. As being only 18 months out from fellowship, I did not feel very far off from being a resident. I wondered if the residents would be disappointed that I was just a junior faculty instead of meeting with a more established senior attending.
The resident mentees at our breakfast table were 3 aspiring pediatric surgeons who were all presenting their work at this conference. We had a great discussion about applying for pediatric surgery programs, the match process, and just life as a junior attending. Afterward, they all reached out to me individually to thank me. It was truly humbling considering I barely felt like I did anything other than give them my time. They even invited me to dinner later that evening. I had no other plans, so I said, “sure.”
In between sessions, I was walking back to the main hall for the Presidential address, when I spotted someone checking in the registration desk in an Air Force uniform. As the outgoing chair of the military committee, I thought I knew all the military surgeons who were coming to the meeting. I quasi-stalked her until she was done with her registration and introduced myself. We chatted, and I invited her to our Military committee meeting later that afternoon, which she was happy to come to.
After the Presidential address, I met with Eugene Kim, AAS Past-President, for lunch to discuss some career advice. We were then casually joined by Cynthia Downard, Surgeon-in-Chief of Norton Children’s Hospital, Tim Donahue, Chief of Surgical Oncology at UCLA, and the Clifford Cho and the Justin Dimick of the University of Michigan. The collective brain power and experience at that table was intimidating but we simply chatted about the ASC and Superbowl.
Due to travel restrictions, not everyone could travel to the meeting. One Army resident was presenting an abstract in a Hepatobiliary/Pancreas session but her mentor was unable to come. Although she was an Army resident (my usual response would be Go Navy, Beat Army), I was more than happy to serve as a substitute mentor- we had gone out to dinner together the day before, and I was there during her presentation, taking pictures so that I could send them to her mentor.
During one of the breaks, I caught up with some other pediatric surgeons by the pool bar. These were all women I had met when we were interviewing together for the pediatric surgery match and stayed friends. We shared our collective experiences and struggles as junior faculty but then this progressed into new research ideas and exciting possibilities for collaboration.
We then had our Military committee meeting, including the 2 new military residents whom I had never met before ASC22 and had invited to the meeting. As we outlined what we had done and our plans, there was an influx of renewed enthusiasm and purpose, particularly by the residents who had never even known of the existence of the Military Committee and were excited by the prospect of an organization built to support them and their goals.
Following the Business Meeting, I immediately walked over to the restaurant for the dinner I had agreed to attend earlier. When I sat down at a table of surgery residents, I was reinvigorated by their enthusiasm and passion for the same field that I loved. I gave them all my contact information before we separated.
It was an incredible day. As I finally winded down in my hotel room, I was struck by all the moments throughout the day in which I found myself supported by mentors and by peers, and by all the moments in which I also supported others, including strangers whom I had never met before. But then again, isn’t that the ultimate purpose of the ASC?