What’s Ahead for ASCRS? Mentoring, Unifying and More Social Media

Incoming president Tracy Hull, MD, discusses her goals for the colorectal surgery society

Cleveland Clinic colorectal surgeon Tracy Hull, MD, will be inaugurated as president of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) when the organization holds its annual scientific meeting in Cleveland June 1-5.

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A member of ASCRS since 1991, Dr. Hull has served on its executive council as secretary, vice president and, most recently, president-elect of the 110-year-old society.

“ASCRS is the premier organization for colorectal surgeons,” says Dr. Hull. “I am extremely honored to become its president, although I’m a little nervous. It’s not just an honorary position. It’s a big job, requiring a big commitment.”

Dr. Hull talked with Consult QD about her plans for ASCRS during her year as president and about her career as a colorectal surgeon.

What are your goals for the 2019-2020 term?

Dr. Hull: My biggest goal is to help ASCRS better nurture early-career surgeons. We’ve had a mentoring program, but it hasn’t been a priority for our organization until now. We’ll also start working on a new colorectal leadership training program, to help our newer surgeons learn how to grow professionally. The program will begin in 2021, after my presidency, but its development will begin now.

Secondly, we’ll be working to further “One Colorectal” efforts. The work and training of colorectal surgeons is impacted by ASCRS and its research foundation, the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery, residency and fellowship program directors, and a residency review committee that reports to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Right now, these entities are working independently. I’m a big proponent of unifying our efforts and having a cohesive message. We need one clear, consistent voice.

Thirdly, I plan to expand the presence of ASCRS on social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram. I have already chosen an ASCRS member to serve as my social media liaison, helping our organization better connect with early-career surgeons. There’s a lot of opportunity for quicker, shorter bursts of communication with our members in addition to our traditional communication, like emails.

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What is the biggest trend in colorectal surgery today?

Dr. Hull: I’d say the biggest trend is multidisciplinary care. Traditionally, the team approach has not been used in colorectal surgery practices. However, it has gained popularity in the past 10 years or so.

More medical centers now are formalizing team approaches. They are witnessing the powerful impact of interdisciplinary communication in evaluating patients, determining their need for surgical and neoadjuvant treatments, and caring for patients holistically.

We have seen how collaboration can improve outcomes for patients with rectal cancer, rectal prolapse, inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions.

How is ASCRS supporting that trend?

Dr. Hull: ASCRS currently has 22 committees focused on caring for patients with specific conditions. For example, our Pelvic Floor Consortium is led by ASCRS members but welcomes all medical professionals that care for patients with pelvic floor problems. They have published papers about how to work together to best serve patients.

ASCRS also has an active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) group that works with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and other organizations to advance IBD treatment and educate patients and medical professionals.

Other examples are our steering groups on caring for patients with rectal cancer and congenital colorectal diseases.

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How did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?

Dr. Hull: I knew from about age 3 that I wanted to be a surgeon. I would watch my father [a veterinarian] do surgery, and loved it. Before we could afford an animal clinic, he practiced out of our garage and would do animal surgery on the kitchen table at night. Also during those times, my father performed a lot of autopsies on farm animals. He would have me close the skin when he was done. I think I really knew I wanted to be a human surgeon from the start, but I did love animal surgery and care.

Why did you choose colorectal surgery as your specialty?

Dr. Hull: I initially wanted to be a plastic surgeon. My sister has congenital deformity issues and I am sure that influenced me. However, when I did my surgery residency, plastic surgery did not inspire me. I still loved general surgery and thought that would be my career plan. When I was ending my fourth year of training and headed into my final year, one of my friends was applying to colon and rectal surgery training fellowships. Since I did not have definite career plans, I thought skills in colon and rectal would be useful for a general surgery career.

What was your training like at Cleveland Clinic?

Dr. Hull: I was so lucky to get a spot to train at Cleveland Clinic. I trained with true giants in my field. I really doubt there was a more talented group of surgeons than those who trained me. I thought I knew something about surgery, but I learned so much more in my year training here. I loved it, and even stayed on for an extra year of training.

How has that impacted your career?

Dr. Hull: I remained at Cleveland Clinic after my training. I was enthralled with the complexity and business of our department. Besides the innovative surgeons in my department, the supporting doctors and nurses from other departments were superb, and that enabled me to successfully operate on patients with extremely complex problems. I noted there was a gap in understanding and multidisciplinary care for patients with pelvic floor problems. We teamed up with other surgeons who specialized in their areas and really put our department on the map as one of the best places in the world for treatment of pelvic floor disorders.