SSA Program Supports Next Generation of Leadership

Jul 28, 2023, 12:47 PM by Alexander Perez, MD, MSHCT, FACS, Ronda S. Henry-Tillman, MD, FACS, Mary E. Klingensmith, MD, FACS, Robert S. D. Higgins, MD, MSHA, FACS, William C. Chapman, MD, FACS, and V. Suzanne Klimberg, MD, PhD, MSHCT, FACS

More than a year after the Southern Surgical Association (SSA) launched a Leadership Development Program (LDP), the inaugural class of surgeon-scholars is putting the lessons learned into practice.

In June 2021, the ACS convened a virtual meeting in response to disparities in leadership and differential advancement opportunities for underrepresented groups in surgery. More than 50 surgical organizations, including the SSA, participated. The group worked to identify hurdles that lead to healthcare disparities and develop strategies for improving access to membership and leadership within these organizations.1

The SSA was founded in 1887 as a small group of prominent local surgeons in Birmingham, Alabama, and has grown into an organization of more than 800 fellows nationwide. In 1900, cofounder W. E. B. Davis stated, “This association has grown and expanded until it is only a Southern association in name. It is a national organization in every sense of the word.”2,3

Since 2013, the Claude Organ, MD, Lectureship, supported by the SSA and The Society of Black Academic Surgeons, has celebrated contributions to the field of medicine made by Black physicians. In 2018, the SSA began hosting the Women Surgeons’ Breakfast at the SSA annual meeting, and a few years later, the event evolved into the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Breakfast.

In 2021, SSA leadership appointed a DEI Task Force. After reviewing the SSA’s organizational composition, the group sought to create membership opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds by identifying and encouraging applications from minority candidates.

Additionally, the task force created dedicated programming related to disparities in outcomes and health equity at the annual meeting to attract a more diverse membership. In 2022, SSA leadership granted the DEI Task Force the status of “standing committee”—the only one of its kind in the SSA.4

Innovative Grant for DEI and Antiracism Programs

Through a competitive granting process, the ACS provided a $25,000 award, to be matched by the SSA, for an SSA leadership development program that promotes excellence in diverse young surgeons.5,6

From this investment, the SSA DEI Task Force created the LDP, which is an initiative intended to expand the SSA’s standards of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; promote innovation and discovery; and better serve patients and the professional mission.

The program focuses on mentorship and leadership development for a group of diverse young surgeons and prepares them for future membership in the SSA. The initiative includes career coaching, lectures on topics such as contracts and negotiations, meta-leadership, workplace culture, health equity, networking opportunities, and the ability to work individually with mentors to achieve career goals.

Monthly meetings are held throughout the year to provide ongoing personalized mentorship. Many members of the SSA generously volunteer to serve as mentors, sponsors, and lecturers for the LDP.

The inaugural ACS Medical Director of the Office of DEI, Bonnie Mason Simpson, MD, has served as a lecturer for the LDP, highlighting the collaboration between the SSA and the ACS, which has been integral to the success of the program.

Inaugural Class of LDP Scholars

Nominations for LDP candidates were solicited via email notification to the entire SSA membership. Candidates submitted their application packets, which included their curricula vitae, biographies, and 1-, 3-, and 5-year career goals.

A total of six LDP scholars were selected from a pool of 26 candidates by the SSA DEI Task Force based on their accomplishments and aspirations. These scholars were paired with SSA mentors, attended monthly group lectures, and were sponsored to attend the 134th SSA Annual Meeting in December 2022. The support and leadership of the SSA and ACS DEI grant made possible the graduation of the inaugural class of LDP scholars (see photo).

Outcomes of the LDP were assessed using monthly surveys of scholars to self-report satisfaction with the yearlong course content and mentorship sessions, as well as the impact of the course on individual professional development and leadership position attainment within their departments, communities, regions, and the nation.

Monthly surveys of the first cohort of LDP scholars showed uniformly high rating (4–5 on a 5-point Likert scale) for the relationship and communication with their mentor, the quality of the monthly lectures, course satisfaction, progress with mentor goals, and likelihood of recommending the program to a peer. Scholars commented favorably regarding networking opportunities, intentional career and promotion planning, and sponsorship opportunities.

The impact of this program on the success of participants achieving leadership positions as well as membership status in the SSA will be tracked long term. When criteria for SSA membership are attained (often around 10 years of practice), current SSA members will sponsor the LDP scholar’s SSA membership application.

Over time, our goal is to demonstrate that these diverse young surgeons included in the LDP achieve career progression and success as evidenced by metrics such as SSA membership, leadership roles in their home institutions and/or other national organizations, and ongoing professional development and progression.

By assisting with leadership development, we anticipate that the pool of surgeon-leaders ready and able to serve in their communities, departments, and organizations will be more diverse than if this program did not exist.

The SSA’s commitment is a result of the organization’s acceptance, culture, and values that have evolved to its current state of awareness under the steadfast leadership of the SSA Council (composed of the past five presidents) and through the generous support of the SSA membership.

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