American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

International Exchange Scholar Recounts Visit to Australia


I had the great pleasure of visiting Perth, Australia, to partake in the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Annual Scientific Congress (RACS ASC 2015) May 4–8, 2015. This year was the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign during World War I. The congress therefore explored two main themes: Surgery of War and the Ethics of Surgery.

I was fortunate to learn about the history of the Gallipoli campaign and its role in fostering an Australian and New Zealand identity. The impact of the war and contributions from the surgical workforce during times of war were revisited throughout the conference. I found that these sessions on the ethics of war and disaster response were applicable to the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ethics seminars also focused on the allocation of scarce resources amongst an aging Australian population and optimal management of the obesity epidemic—issues that are central to health care delivery and public health in the U.S.

Australians and Americans also have similar concerns regarding surgical training. Need for rural surgeons, duty-hour restrictions, and high-attrition rates are some of the common concerns between the two countries. One unique difference in training is that Australian trainees complete at least one year of internship similar to a transitional year before applying to surgical residency. This year of training has both surgical and clinical rotations. Many of the Australian trainees felt this year provided important insight and helped them decide on a specialty. Another difference is that the majority of residents work in public hospitals. Training at public hospitals typically provides trainees with responsibility and autonomy earlier in training than as compared to private hospitals in Australia.

The role of simulation in training and measuring surgical competence were also addressed throughout the conference. One of my favorite lectures was the impact of social media on a surgeon’s practice. This lecture provided fresh perspective and advice on an inescapable aspect of this generation’s form of communication. I was also impressed by the congress’ focus on aging surgeons and avenues to cope with surgeon fatigue.

This trip provided me with a unique opportunity to meet Australian surgical residents and leaders. I learned from their experiences, research, and training structure in a welcoming environment. I am grateful to the Resident and Associate Society of the American College of Surgeons as well as the Royal Australasian Surgeons for providing me this unique opportunity.

About the Author

Ammara Abbasi Watkins, MD, is a research fellow in surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA.