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Embracing the Adventure

Although his term as 101st President of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) was unusual due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Marc Moon, MD, Section Chief of Cardiac Surgery, approached this position with visions for innovation and continued progress.

For the second year in a row, the Association hosted its annual meeting, held April 30 to May 2, in a virtual environment. The nature of the event did not encumber the organization’s goal of cardiothoracic education and outreach; overall, the virtual event garnered the attention of more than 8,000 participants across nearly 80 countries.

Marc Moon presenting for the American Association for Thoracic Surgery

Moon began his presidential address with an anecdote from 1998 detailing his last night as a resident at Stanford University. In a matter of hours, he and his family would be moving to St. Louis so he could begin the next step of his career: joining the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine, educating the next generation of cardiothoracic surgeons.

As he loaded his children into the family car to embark on their journey, he recalled the moment his son, Tyler, stopped him and asked, “Dad, is this an adventure?”

“Adventures generally involve narrow escapes with bravery dependent on acts of great courage, founded on intelligence, skill and good fortune,” Moon explained. “Does that sound familiar? Is cardiovascular surgery an adventure?

“It is without a doubt a challenging quest,” he said. “The journey into our specialty is protracted and arduous, more so than many, many others, and full of obstacles to overcome.”

One obstacle to overcome, Moon found, was handling the interpersonal stress and tension that can occur in the high intensity environment of cardiac operating room. Maintaining calm in moments of stress and tension is critical to the surgeon’s well-being and positive patient outcomes and if anything disrupts this delicate balance, both areas can suffer.

For these reasons, the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery implemented a Culture of Safety project and developed an in-depth, team-based training curriculum that focused on communication, leadership, situation monitoring and mutual support in the operating room environment. The team collected several thousand data points from post-operation surveys from the project’s participants but overall, the project fostered an enriched culture of safety and an emphasized focus on collaboration and teamwork throughout the cardiothoracic service line.

“Professionalism must be treated like any other acquired skill. We must learn it,” Moon said. “It takes a committed effort to develop self-sustaining alternatives to unprofessional behavior, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to do it alone.”

One of Moon’s primary focuses as president of AATS was to bring awareness to the obstacles faced by underrepresented cardiothoracic surgeons. In his address, Moon recognized his privilege of never having been on the receiving end of any racial or gender bias and stated he felt like it was his duty to bring these topics, particularly the movement to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in the profession, to the forefront.

To this end, 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.

In the conclusion of his address, Moon recounted the question his son asked right before his family began their journey to St. Louis—Is this an adventure?

“Without question, cardiothoracic surgery, and life for that matter, is an adventure with challenges, an adventure with consequences, an adventure with reward. Let’s not be ordinary. Let’s commit to take action and make long-term positive change. Let’s do something to make ourselves feel proud.”

As Moon’s presidential address ended, so did his term as the organization’s leader. He is succeeded by Shaf Keshavjee, MD, the 102nd AATS President. Though his term has ended, Moon will continue to serve in the organization’s board of directors. 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.