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

Clinical Updates

Supporting the Surgeon-Scientist through Specialty Societies: An Update from the ACS Advisory Council for Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery

By Patrick K. Ha, MD, and Cherie-Ann Nathan, MD, FACS

The definition of a surgeon-scientist is quite broad, with many different examples of what the "scientist" component might represent. Throughout one's career, an investigator may participate in clinical trials, retrospective studies, bench research, policy work, quality of life analyses, and so many other opportunities for scientific discovery and innovation. While there are significant variations in the resources and skills needed to accomplish these projects, the common foundation of a successful surgeon-scientist is anchored in mentorship and community.

While mentorship and community exist within the surgeon-scientist's own department, there may be limitations to the scope of support provided; otolaryngology, for example, is a small specialty. Thus, the American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) has made it one of their goals to provide resources to help their members develop and sustain meaningful scientific careers.

The AHNS has long been a supporter of funding research, with dollar amounts increasing steadily. There are mechanisms to support trainees, pilot projects, and even more junior investigators. Over the last 20 years, these funds have led to significant return on investment by all measures, as demonstrated by a recent study by Liu and colleagues. Eighty percent of the awards resulted in publications; 63 percent resulted in future funding; and, perhaps most importantly, 93 percent of recipients were still conducting research of some kind.* Clearly, by establishing a platform for developing a research plan, going through a rigorous review process, and providing funding to carry out the work, these awards have helped facilitate the development of many surgeon-scientists.

Along with the actual dollar amounts, the AHNS provides training in grant writing for these awards. At national meetings, there have been several panels and lectures providing education on the process of obtaining NIH funding, the structure of a grant, and advanced tips on successful grant writing. The meetings also provide a platform for abstract submission and publication of scientific work, whether or not it is supported by direct funding.

Most importantly, the AHNS as an entity provides a specialty-wide platform for collaboration and mentorship, inherent in the community of members. The membership spans from early trainees to former chairs and founders of the specialty of head and neck surgery. By getting involved in meetings, committee work, and social events, members can build a network for sharing ideas, collaborate on multi-institutional studies, and provide guidance on developing and sustaining a scientific career. The community can inspire and motivate surgeon-scientists at all levels and create a sustainable effort together.

Societies such as the AHNS are critical in nurturing surgeon-scientists through providing grant opportunities, platforms for publishing and sharing of information, mentorship, and collaboration. It is our hope that we will continue to see successful advancement of our field through scientific inquiry, as we strive to put the proper resources into the hands of the surgeons who can make meaningful improvements to the care of our patients.

*Liu JC, Kupferman M, Kraus D. Characteristics and outcomes of research funded by the American Head and Neck Society. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020;145(12):1120-1124.