Education, outreach and research remain the cornerstones of AOFAS
For a little more than 40 years, the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society has cultivated research, outreach and educational programs within the specialty.
“Our society aims to deliver what members need to practice cost-effective, high efficiency, state-of-the-art foot and ankle care,” American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) president-elect Lew C. Schon, MD, told Orthopedics Today. “We will maintain and expand our role as the pre-eminent source of education in foot and ankle.”
Exploring the past of the society is key to understanding its future, Schon noted.
The history of the AOFAS goes back to 1969, with its founding members: Nathaniel Gould, MD, Nicholas Giannestras, MD, Melvin Jahss, MD, Robert Joplin, MD, Hampar Kelikian, MD, Paul Lapidus, MD, and Joseph Milgram, MD. They started what would officially become the American Orthopaedic Foot Society (AOFS). The AOFS encompassed around 150 members, holding its first scientific meeting in San Francisco in 1971.
“This was in the era before there were a lot of fellowships, so people were going into foot and ankle at some point in their career without starting off with specialized training,” John S. Gould, MD, son of the late Nathaniel Gould, MD, told Orthopedics Today.
“The goal of the society was to educate general orthopedists and to develop the specialty within orthopedics as a bona fide important subdivision.”
In 1973, under the leadership of President Robert L. Samilson, MD, the AOFS became the first affiliate organization of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Influence of past presidents
Schon noted the influence of Jahss — who served as president from 1973 to 1974 — is still felt today.
“Jahss was passionate about the AOFAS and its mission,” Schon said. “He lived the words he delivered in his 1973 presidential address: ‘Our ultimate goal is to educate the public and to provide them with the best foot care at the highest academic and professional level.’” Jahss served as the first editor of the society’s journal, Foot & Ankle, which launched in 1981, and was later renamed Foot & Ankle International.
Gould noted there are a number of leaders who guided the development of the society in its early years including Melvin Jahss, Nathaniel Gould and Nicholas Giannestras.
“You have to recognize that this sort of thing was not being done in other groups. It was unique. It was the first affiliate society. These founders were huge players in getting this venture off the ground — not just as a society, but really this whole movement to make foot and ankle a premiere specialty within orthopedics.”
AOFS membership voted unanimously to change the name of the society to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society in 1983, with the first independent AOFAS summer meeting held in July 1985. John S. Gould, MD, took over as president of AOFAS in 1985 — the first son of a past president to be elected to the same office.
“I think what made it particularly exciting for me was the idea of trying to bring in a younger group of people and get them excited about getting involved,” he said.
Soon, the AAOS officially dissolved society affiliation agreements — meaning societies were allowed to meet independently.
Significant changes would occur at an almost yearly clip for the next 15 years, with AOFAS growing in membership size, influence, accreditation and capability. Pierce E. Scranton, Jr., MD, served as president of the society from 2001 to 2002 and formed the premiere outreach program of the AOFAS: The Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Outreach & Education Fund (OEF).
Started as an AOFAS internal fund, the OEF became a separate 501(c)(3) organization in 2004 and is dedicated to supporting the mission of the AOFAS in research, education and service.
According to Scranton, under the OEF, service for disadvantaged people in countries without sufficient resources became the cornerstone for members to offer financial support. This soon expanded into funding for education and research.
“More than 800 Vietnamese patients have had corrective surgery through our overseas outreach program, and an uncounted many more have benefited from our AOFAS members giving their time, expertise and support in Haiti, Uganda and other parts of the world,” Scranton said.
Moving into the present, current AOFAS president Judith F. Baumhauer, MD, noted that the strengths of the society continue to be its leadership and focus on education, research and outreach.
“Our society’s leadership is a board and not just an individual,” Baumhauer told Orthopedics Today. “We plan strategically and our well thought out paths enable us to get done what we hope to get done. I feel lucky having so many brilliant people surrounding me. As a group, we move our society forward.”
“We have targeted resident education and public education so that patients can recognize the excellence level of care provided by orthopedic foot and ankle physicians,” she added. “We strive to educate and provide excellent clinical care and leadership by fostering relationships with other physicians.
Baumhauer also said she hopes to continue to expand the relationship AOFAS has developed with those looking to educate themselves about the foot and ankle subspecialty.
“If people want to learn more about the foot and ankle, come on in. We will help you,” she said. “Resident involvement in AOFAS has gone up a hundredfold. We now have more fellowship applicants than ever. We do not even have enough fellowship slots for all the residents who want to come in and learn. We will be working on that!”
Schon is looking forward to the opportunity to give back to AOFAS in a truly meaningful way, keeping the past in mind while focusing on the future.
“The presidency marks a culmination of my mentors’ efforts to inspire others,” Schon said. “I am privileged to carry the torch of my forefathers and fulfill the mission of the AOFAS … our courses, meetings, scholarships, publications, web presence and our effective administrative infrastructure will be bolstered to meet new challenges. It will be a phenomenal honor to serve our members.”
Scranton is optimistic that the society will continue to grow and shape itself into the model by which specialties societies are judged.
“The future of the AOFAS will be bright,” he said. “To me, one of the important contributions our society has made to the world and my own practice is that with thoughtfulness, proper indications and good technique, there are many ways to do things right.”
“We may conveniently label a procedure as the ‘gold standard,’ but immediately we know that someone in our society is already looking for another better way to achieve even better care and results,” he added.
Baumhauer and Schon have been similarly impressed by the ingenuity, integrity and creativity within the AOFAS. They note that the ultimate strength of the AOFAS comes from its members who are altruistically engaged on multiple levels.
“Our members are impressive folks with diverse interests and capabilities who place a premium on intellectual discourse, technical collaboration and social interaction,” they said.” With this as our core, our prospects seem limitless.” – by Robert Press
- Judith F. Baumhauer, MD, can be reached at Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Ave., Box 665, Rochester, NY 14642; email: email@example.com.
- John S. Gould, MD, can be reached at UAB Orthopaedics, 1313 13th St. So., Birmingham, AL 35205; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lew C. Schon, MD, can be reached at Department of Orthopaedics, Union Memorial Hospital 3333 N. Calvert St., Johnston Prof Building, Suite 400 Baltimore, MD 21218; email: email@example.com.
- Pierce E. Scranton, Jr., MD, can be reached at Orthopedics International Ltd., 901 Boren Ave, Suite 800, Seattle, WA 98104; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Disclosure: Baumhauer, Gould, Schon and Scranton have no relevant financial disclosures.