It is with excitement, humility, and enormous pride in our specialty that I begin my service as the 103rd President of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. It is an honor and privilege to start this journey with Rosemary F. Kelly as the new AATS Secretary. We both wish to extend our gratitude to the past-President Shaf Keshavjee and Secretary David Jones for their mentorship and for their skill and dedication in guiding the AATS through many important changes that have put us on a path to an exciting future. They have skillfully managed the hiring of an amazing CEO, David Bobbitt, and JTCVS editor, Alex Patterson, along with an organizational restructuring that has empowered our incredible AATS staff - to whom we are indebted. The AATS and the AATS Foundation are in a strong financial position, despite the challenges of COVID19, thanks to their leadership, creative fundraising efforts of the AATS Foundation, our generous corporate sponsors, and all of you - our inspiring members. I have always felt welcomed, supported, and nurtured by the members of this organization. Even early in my career, I felt that I belonged. Therefore, it is my mission to ensure that the AATS emboldens our members, advances the care of our patients, inspires the next generation of cardiothoracic surgeons, and welcomes you to become even more engaged with our family.
In my first week of medical school, I found myself enamored with cardiac surgery after a lecture by Michael Kaye, a cardiac surgeon involved in cardiac transplant research at the Mayo Clinic. I went to his office with a million questions, he asked what I wanted to be doing in 20 years. As an MD-PhD student, I wanted to learn more, see surgery, and operate. He walked me over to his large animal laboratory and told the guys to teach me how to sew. His love of cardiac surgery was infectious. He facilitated the collaboration that allowed my PhD studies in transplant immunology to be conducted at University of Pittsburgh and he called nearly every year, until his death in 2017, just to see how my career was going and if he could help. I was nothing special - he did this for many, many of his mentees! As a medical student in 1984, he never once mentioned to me that only 25 women had ever become board-certified in cardiothoracic surgery. He told me later that it just didn’t seem to be important to point that out - I had a dream and he didn’t think that such a small fact should change anything. As the 103rd AATS President, I am rather glad he felt that way - it meant there were no limits on my career and it made all of the difference. Mentorship is, and will always be, the key to our success.
Cardiothoracic surgeons are known for their pioneering spirit, adaptability in the face of challenge, and creativity in solving seemingly “insolvable” problems. Today, there are more than 350 female board-certified cardiothoracic surgeons with women representing nearly 25% of cardiothoracic surgery residents and 10% of practicing cardiothoracic surgeons. However, gender is only one example of cardiothoracic surgeons supporting diversity in our field. Although officially named the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, our more than 1,500 members are from more than 42 countries with diversities in practice, training, race, ethnicity, LGBTQIA, and religion. To best serve our members and patients, we also need to actively cultivate and listen to differences in experience, background, interest, skills, and vision from all groups, both under-represented and majority.
Addressing challenges by seeking novel ideas and innovations from multiple vantagepoints will build a robust community that supports all of our academic cardiothoracic surgeons around the world, and make for a healthier more resilient workforce, stronger partnerships, new collaborations, creative solutions, and ultimately better patient care. I am incredibly proud of the legacy of quiet but steadfast commitment to mentorship, sponsorship, and teaching that is ingrained in the fabric of academic cardiothoracic surgery as exemplified above. Similarly, I am proud of the quiet but steadfast commitment of the AATS to clinical excellence, leadership, scholarship, and innovation.
It is through a welcoming community that seeks and embraces new ideas and viewpoints and offers readily available friendship, mentorship, and sponsorship that we maximize our impact. I know it has made all the difference in my career. So to those friends, mentors, and sponsors that have helped all of us along the way - Thank you! To all AATS members - old, new, and future - Welcome! We are very glad you are here!
Yolonda L. Colson, MD
AATS 103rd President