The Many Facets of "Fellowship"
Michael Cornelison, DPM, FACFAS
It’s been only a short time since I returned to my office
after a truly memorable experience at the 2022 ACFAS Annual Scientific
Conference in Austin. I imagine a lot of you feel as recharged as I do after an
ASC, but that’s been especially true this year, following the most attended ASC
to date. No doubt, so many of us were ready to get back together again.
Through the pandemic, we’ve found easier ways to access our
continuing education virtually. In place of exhibit halls, we’ve had to find
alternative methods to engage with our industry partners on whom we depend in
our daily practices. As sure as necessity is the mother of invention, the
technology world stepped up to our needs, and we will continue to benefit from
optimized virtual platforms. Nevertheless, when the opportunity finally
presented itself, more of us got together in Austin than at any previous ASC.
Throughout the meeting and since, I’ve done some earnest thinking as to why
this has been the case.
One of the things I think we’ve been longing for is the
sense of fellowship we experience when we are able to congregate in large
numbers, with those we’ve known since we started down our shared pathways, with
others we’ve since met along the way, and with whom we want to share what we’ve
been doing since we last met and what we expect we’ll be doing until we meet
again. For foot and ankle surgeons, there’s no better place to do it than the
“Fellowship” is a term we encounter frequently within the
realm of what we do as foot and ankle surgeons. In this particular case, it
refers to “friendly association, especially with people who share one's
interests.” Most recently, if you were to ask our professional community what
the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word “fellowship,” many
would likely associate it with post-residency advanced training. Indeed, as the
knowledge base of foot and ankle surgery expands and as new technologies continue
to develop, it is quite practical to address this with additional training in
subspecialty areas. The growth in the number of fellowship training programs
has been substantial, and back in 2010 the ACFAS anticipated the potential
ramifications of this with the creation of its Fellowship Recognition
Initiative. The intent was and remains to foster high-quality programs by
establishing specific criteria that must be met to become an ACFAS Recognized
Fellowship. Today, the college recognizes over fifty such fellowship programs.
For more information, please visit the Fellowship Center at acfas.org.
Fellowship might mean something different to some of our
newest members. In Austin, I had the distinct honor of assisting ACFAS
Immediate Past President Dr. Thanh Dinh in presenting Fellow pins to those foot
and ankle surgeons who this year achieved Fellowship member status in ACFAS.
Fellowship in ACFAS, as is typical of medical specialty colleges, represents
considerably more than just being a member. Another specialty college, the
American College of Surgeons, describes being a fellow thusly:
The letters FACS (Fellow, American College of Surgeons)
after a surgeon’s name mean that the surgeon’s education and training,
professional qualifications, surgical competence, and ethical conduct have
passed a rigorous evaluation, and have been found to be consistent with the
high standards established and demanded by the College
Likewise, the post-nominal letters FACFAS indicate that the
foot and ankle surgeon has met the threshold of high standards demanded by our
own College; in our case, these include board certification specifically by the
American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS), the only board recognized by
the Joint Committee on the Recognition of Specialty Boards certifying Doctors
of Podiatric Medicine in foot and ankle surgery. Fellowship, in this sense,
represents a brand that the public and referring health care professionals can
depend upon when seeking surgical care of the foot and ankle.
Returning to the notion of fellowship defining a cordial group
of people sharing common interests, perhaps we should consider ourselves to be
in “fellowship” in a more general sense with other organizations or specialties
outside of our own. Over the duration of my 25 years as a Doctor of Podiatric
Medicine, I have frequently heard about real or presumed differences and
conflicts between professional organizations, many with other medical
specialties but also others within our own. More recently, there has been an
earnest recognition that in many cases, those that have differences with us
oftentimes share much more in common with us. There is no better illustration
of this than the collaboration that has been fostered by the Joint Task Force
of Podiatric and Orthopaedic Surgeons, composed of the ACFAS, the APMA, the
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), and the American Orthopaedic
Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS). Representatives within the Task Force will
continue to convene to work on mutually-experienced challenges surrounding
issues such as reimbursement, CPT code valuation, pre-authorization practices,
and unilateral exclusions of specific procedures, modalities and surgical
devices by payors, to name a few. Significant progress has already been made in
these endeavors which never would have been possible without the collaborative
efforts of the Task Force.
So “fellowship” means a number of things to the College, all
of which it constantly takes quite seriously. As I enter into my term as
President, to me it reflects firstly the common bond all ACFAS members have of
being Proven Leaders and Lifelong Learners who are positively impacting the
lives of our patients. Per the College’s stated mission, I look forward to
doing my part to help empower you as a member of the College.