Despite ending my SAGES presidency in the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to reach out to the SAGES membership and thank each one of you that contributed to SAGES in some way to make this an incredible year. I have been honored to serve as your President and delighted at the accomplishments we have made together. We have more than 800 active and engaged committee members and more than 6,500 members. With the support of our awesome BSC staff, this society, more than any other I work with, really gets stuff done.
With many active and engaged members also come many great ideas. In order to help streamline our organization and to get alignment and prioritization for our initiatives, we held a strategic planning retreat in Asheville, North Carolina last fall in conjunction with our fall Board meeting. For this retreat we brought in a variety of SAGES leaders as well as some young SAGES members and more senior advisers to harness our collective intelligence and to set appropriate strategic goals. We developed new mission and vision statements and clarified our core values. We also clarified a robust strategic plan with specific goals and timelines. This is available in detail on our website to help guide our SAGES membership and leadership. We hope these goals and plans resonate with each of you and clarify what SAGES is trying to do.
Some of these concepts I’ve been delighted to dive into during my presidency, although these initiatives are no longer uniquely presidential and are planned in conjunction with the entire Executive Committee to be multi-year projects aligning with these SAGES goals.
A major highlight of the year for me was Innovation Weekend, held in February. It was actually three meetings rolled into one. The first day of the weekend was the Next Big Thing Summit led by Christopher Schlachta. We were able to meet with industry partners and creative surgeons to brainstorm ways that SAGES as a society can support new ideas. We discussed that while many SAGES members are housed in academic centers that have infrastructure for device development and patent acquisition, a large share of our members don’t have those resources. SAGES can have two key functions to help prospective inventors: The first of these is a grant process to provide real seed/Angel funds for inventors, possibly as a dollar prize for our annual meeting shark tank. The second is to identify a network of partners to help with engineering, patent law, and potentially partners for new technology incubation and start-ups. We realized the worth of this off-cycle meeting with equal partnership amongst industry, innovators and surgeons and plan to continue to host an additional Innovation Weekend in 2021.
In addition to the Next Big Thing, we also held an Advocacy Summit, attended by surgeons, industry partners, employer and device advocacy groups, the FDA, as well as national representatives from a major insurer. The summit, led by Ross Goldberg, addressed a strategic pathway to get reimbursed sooner for new technologies and procedures. The group discussion culminated in the concept of continuing to meet formally as a gastrointestinal consortium that could guide evidence development to shorten the chasm between FDA approval and reimbursement.
The final arm of Innovation Weekend spun out of our new AI committee led by Oz Meireles. They have been networking amazingly well with our industry partners and found a need in the area of video annotation. In order to develop computer analysis of video imaging that can cross talk across systems, a standard in video annotation must be shared by all parties. We were able to get key vendors all in the same room to standardize annotation for lap chole. The meeting was so successful that we are already planning the next summit at Innovation Weekend 2021. Innovation weekend, as well as many of our recent and upcoming efforts in technology and education were generously sponsored by Dr. Pon Satitpunwaycha, our largest individual Foundation donor in SAGES history. We really enjoyed Dr. Pon’s participation in Innovation Weekend and the opportunity to get to know him on a personal level.
One other major area that has been supported by Dr. Pon is our focused area of Education. This year we are rolling out our Organization Wide Learning System, known as OWLS. OWLS is a major advancement in SAGES IT, allowing us to host and access all of our online learning content from one central location. We continue to build our Masters Program which will be hosted on OWLS. This year we added a new Pathway to the Masters Program, in the less tangible area of Leadership and Professional Development. The curriculum development, led by Dana Telem and the Leadership and Professionalism Committee, is also supported by Caitlin Halbert with the Community Practice Committee, Rebecca Petersen and the Research Committee, and Debby Keller and the Burnout Taskforce from our Quality, Outcomes and Safety Committee.
Also in the realm of education, we have developed a new tool for video assessment. Liane Feldman and Matt Ritter led this effort which is described here (https://rdcu.be/bQVbi). We will soon have tools for lap chole and lap hernia with plans to develop assessments for all Masters pathways.
We have recently been approved by the Fellowship Council as the sponsoring society of a new Foregut Fellowship classification. ASMBS and SSAT accepted our invitation to co-sponsor this fellowship which gives recognition for programs that train deeply in laparoscopic, robotic or endoscopic approaches to foregut disease. Please look out for the official announcement in the coming weeks. The designation will be available in the next fellowship year. We are also developing clarification for the Flexible Endoscopy Fellowship. We are proposing both Advanced (Disease focused) and Comprehensive levels in this program.
We ended this year by hosting our final committee and board meetings in a completely virtual format. I was really impressed with the high level of participation and engagement of our members, as always. I am very excited to see all of you personally August 12-15 in Cleveland for the finale of my Presidential year and the 2020 SAGES’ Annual Meeting. However, at this time I am turning over the Presidency to the very capable Horacio Asbun so that he can have a full 12 months as SAGES’ President.