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A Conversation with Condoleezza Rice: 101st AATS Annual Meeting

Washington University cardiothoracic surgeon Marc Moon, MD, serves as the 101st President of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS). This year, the AATS 101st Annual Meeting, featuring the Aortic Symposium and Mitral Conclave, was held virtually. This virtual meeting gave participants the opportunity to come together to have discussions, ask hard questions, hear new perspectives, and build on each other’s work. As part of the Presidential Plenary, Moon and AATS Vice President Yolanda Colson, MD, PhD, were joined in conversation by the 66th United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“The theme of the 101st AATS Annual Meeting is Diversity without Exclusion in a Culture of Safety,” said Moon. “As such, I was eager to invite an individual who epitomized these ideals as my honored guest. I consider Condoleezza Rice to be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and revered leaders of my generation. I am thrilled that she will be joining us this year to share her thoughts on how we can continue to advance not only cardiothoracic surgery but all of society in the coming years.”

During the conversation, Rice addressed the impact of prejudice and unconscious bias, described the influence of her mentors and educators, and emphasized the importance of increasing and maintaining diversity and excellence in leadership positions.

Rice shared stories of her upbringing in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, where her parents taught her to combat prejudice by being twice as good, never thinking of herself as a victim and controlling her responses to others. She described her community as one structured around faith, family and education.

“Part of the way that you overcome tribalism is to get outside your own tribe, meet people who are unlike you and recognize that ultimately we’re all part of a human tribe,” Rice said. “But you have to get to know people individually in order to do that.”

Moon, who has served as a mentor for countless surgeons and trainees as chief of cardiac surgery and thoracic surgery residency program director at the School of Medicine, asked Rice about the role of mentorship throughout her career.

“Great mentors are people who see things in you that you don’t see in yourself,” Rice said. She recalled several mentors who were influential throughout her career, from college professors to politicians. “Not a single one looked like me,” Rice said. The important thing was not to have a mentor who looked like her, but one who believed in her. “You ought to look for role models and mentors who advocate for you and who will take up your cause.”

Rice also addressed the importance of diversity in leadership positions, saying that diversity and excellence are both vital. Finding candidates who come from diverse backgrounds, have excellence in different areas and can contribute meaningfully are all ways of promoting diversity while also cultivating excellence in leaders.

Leading the Change

As President of the AATS, Moon has focused on improving international outreach, diversity and inclusion, and wellness in cardiothoracic surgery.

“These three areas of focus will foster future generations of cardiothoracic surgeons, who may not ‘look like’ the group that gathered a century ago for the first AATS Annual Meeting, but whose dedication to advancing our field is paramount to our continued growth as a specialty and Association,” Moon said in his President’s Message last June.

At the conclusion of the conversation with Rice, Moon delivered his Presidential Address to the AATS. During the address, Moon announced the debut of the AATS position statement on diversity, equity and inclusion. Moon also announced that the AATS and AATS Foundation approved a $1.2 million program to offer underrepresented minorities who are interested in cardiothoracic surgery a Medical Student Diversity Scholarship.

“The AATS has both the motivation and the resources to reform our specialty,” Moon said. “We have to lead the change we want to see in the world.”

Founded in 1917, the AATS, along with its philanthropic arm, the AATS Foundation, has sought to advance the field of cardiothoracic surgery. It is an international organization whose members have a proven record of distinction within the specialty and have made significant contributions to the care and treatment of cardiothoracic disease throughout the world.

Moon is the seventh Washington University cardiothoracic surgeon to be named AATS President, following in the footsteps of, among others, Evarts Graham, MD, the first Chairman of the Department of Surgery, and G. Alexander Patterson, MD, the Joseph Bancroft Professor of Surgery.