History of the Yale Surgical Society

A Brief History of the Yale Surgical Society

On April 12th, 1994, Ronald C. Merrell, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine and Chief of Surgery, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Robert K. Houlihan, M.D., Associate Chief of Surgery, Yale-New Haven Hospital, convened a committee at the Race Brook Country Club to discuss the creation of the fellowship of graduates and faculty of the training program in surgery at YSM/Y-NHH. Present in addition to Drs. Merrell and Houlihan were Drs. Marvin Arons, Phillip Dickey, James Dowaliby, Steven Stein, Nina Horowitz, Richard Stahl, Harold Stern, Bauer Sumpio, Andrew Graham and Ms. Jo Ann D'Agostino and Ms. Doris Farquhar.

After a short discussion, it was decided that this organization would be called, the Yale Surgical Society. Membership would be granted to all who had trained in the YSM/Y-NHH Surgery Program as well as all teaching faculty, both community and University. Andrew J. Graham was elected as President and Phillip Dickey as Vice-President. Robert Houlihan was selected to be consultant.

The leadership group was instructed to form a board of directors, create a mission statement and to write by-laws in order to comply with state and federal mandates for establishing a non-profit organization.

Nina Horowitz agreed to be treasurer and Barbara Ward became secretary. The first board of directors included, in addition to the officers mentioned above, two ex officio members, Chief of Surgery Ronald Merrell and Associate Chief of Surgery Richard Stahl as well as at large members James Dowaliby, John Elefteriades, Ralph Stroup and Bauer Sumpio. This gave the Society ten members chosen from the community and full time faculty ranks representing all sections of the department. It was agreed that all board members, except the ex officio designates, were to be nominated from the ranks of former members of the surgical training program at YSM/Y-NHH. Doris Farquhar took on the role of Executive Director, supporting the fledgling organization through the Chairman's office. Robert Houlihan, who had just retired as Associate Chief, continued in his role as consultant.

In October 1994, in its first organizational activity, the YSS hosted a reception at the American College of Surgeons meeting in Chicago. It was decided, on the basis of the strong positive response, that the reception held on the first Monday evening of the ACS autumn meeting would become an annual event. During the winter of 1994-95, committees were formed to write by-laws, establish criteria of membership and to fulfill the state and federal requirements establishing YSS as a legitimate nonprofit organization.

A newsletter was published in March 1995. This quickly became the YSS Bulletin which is published three times annually. Over time the content expanded to include a president's column, a chairman's column and guest columns recounting activities of its members as well as events in the YSM/Y-NHH training program at the Medical School and the hospital.

In the fall of 1995 a logo was designed for the society that would represent something that all surgeons, no matter their specialty, would recognize. It was a curved surgical needle with a swedged on thread. The next step was to design a Yale Surgical Society certificate of membership. These were to be awarded to all dues paying members and to all of the graduating chief residents. This plan was eventually modified to the present custom of distributing membership certificates to each trainee as they complete one year of the program.

In the fall of 1995, the ACS reception was followed by a dinner. Over the years this custom has changed as it became apparent that the reception had become a starting place for members to gather and then proceed to separate dinners and other receptions.

During the winter of 1995-96, Dean Gerard Burrow asked Dr. Merrell if the Yale Surgical Society would be interested in becoming an active participant in the Annual Yale Medical School Reunion which traditionally is held on the first Friday of June. Although this was a daunting challenge on such short notice, YSS grasped at this splendid opportunity to increase its visibility and strengthen its membership. The decision was made to dedicate the first YSS reunion to Gustaf E. Lindskog, the senior retired chairman. Through an intensive telephone campaign all of his chief residents and his entire faculty were contacted. Because of Dr. Lindskog's frailty, the reception was held on Friday, June 7 at Carl and Annemarie Lindskogs' home in Woodbridge, where Gustaf had a separate apartment. A dinner followed at the New Haven Country Club. This event was so well received that plans were made to make this another annual tradition. After a few years, it became evident that facilities for receptions and dinners were so limited in New Haven on the Friday night of the YSM reunion that the program had to be moved to Thursday, to the relief of both organizations. In time the program evolved into its present form with a welcoming reception held at the medical school, followed by grand rounds and then a dinner for all attendees at one of the many sites now available.

When C. Elton Cahow became seriously ill in the winter of 1996-97, Dr. Merell called upon the YSS to enlist its membership to rapidly contribute enough money to inaugurate a lecture to be named in Dr. Cahow's honor. It is to the credit of the YSS that the requisite $20,000 was quickly raised. With this seed money a fund in Elton Cahow's name has been established at YSM. The first lecture was given in the spring and has continued annually as one of the few endowed surgical grand rounds. This was the first effort by the YSS at major fundraising for the department.

When Ronald Merrell left the chairmanship at the end of the academic year, 1998-99, the executive committee created the Ronald C. Merrell Founders Award and presented him with an engraved Paul Revere Bowl. This award was designed to recognize from time to time those individuals who made special contributions to the Yale Surgical Society. James Dowaliby and Bauer Sumpio were selected in 2005 and Richard Stahl in 2007.

The executive committee of the board, which had not changed since 1994, had its first reorganization in 2000. The honor role of board members, in addition to the founding board, includes the following, Robert Weiss, Interim Chairman; Sharon Cullen, Executive Secretary; Ania Shea, Executive Secretary; Eugenia Vining; Sanziana Roman; Michael O'Brien; Richard Dean; George Tellides; Michael Coady; John Colberg; Joseph Shin; Thomas Sweeney; Stephan Ariyan; the new Associate Chief and Robert Udelsman, the present chairman.

The first YSS website went up in 2000. It has had many revisions since and is presently part of the soon to be activated Yale Medical School website. It is hoped that in the modern world of telecommunication, access to information will be easier.

Robert Udelsman became Chairman/Chief on June 1, 2001, and a new era began for YSS. Our loose relationship with the Development Office of YSM was strengthened by the assignment of Alison Bonds, and then Maureen Grieco, to assist in our growth.

Three new projects were undertaken in 2002. First there was the Hall of Honor. The plan which required major research to find residents from the 1920's, 30's and 40's, was fully accomplished by 2006. Portraits of all of the previous Professors of Surgery had already been placed on the walls outside of the office of the chairman. Plaques listing the names of all the chief residents were placed under the chairmen starting with Samuel Harvey and including Gustaf Lindskog, Jack Cole, Arthur Baue, William Collins and Ronald Merrell.

The second initiative of 2002 was the creation of the annual Sam Harvey Award. This award includes a substantial check, a plaque to the recipient and a listing on a plaque placed in the Hall of Honor. Winners are chosen by a ballot distributed to the entire surgical house staff in which they vote to recommend to the executive committee one of the chief residents or fellows. This award has been funded by the generosity of YSS members. Since most of the current house staff is not familiar with Dr. Harvey's career, a biographical article about him was written in 1953 by Dr. Max Taffel. His picture has been reprinted from the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine and will be given to each award winner.

The third initiative involved a complete revamping of the database. This is an enormous and continuing effort. With the help of Alison Bonds, Lee Sylvestre and Michael LaSala of the YSM Development Office, and the excellent response to the first annual survey, a new and more reliable mailing list of over eleven hundred names was created. Maintenance of this roster is now in the hands of Janice Kabara of the YSM Development Office and Ania Shea in the Department of Surgery Education Office, with specific members of the executive committee assigned to keep tabs as trainees depart and others move or retire.

In 2003, Sharon Cullen moved to a position in the operating room and was replaced by Ania Shea as Executive Secretary. Alison Bonds took on the role of web master for YSS and the Department of Surgery. Lee Sylvestre, then in the surgical education office, become the YSS first part time employee working to keep the data base current.

The Yale Surgical Society Bulletin took on new hues in 2005 as Maureen Grieco of YSM Development became a most important member of the YSS team. The format was redesigned, black and white pictures were added as well as graphs, and by 2007 there were color photos.

In an effort to support Yale medical students who might be considering careers in surgery, YSS began, in 2006, to give active assistance to the Yale Surgical Interest Group. Yss Treasurer John E. Fenn is its faculty advisor. An essay by the YSIG co-leader was featured in the Bulletin He and his colleague were invited to be the first pre-clinical medical students to give surgical grand rounds on the activities of YSIG. The officers are the guests of the society at the annual reunion dinner.

With the enthusiastic encouragement of Nancy Angoff, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, the international and domestic travel award scholarships were initiated. The international award has now been named the Gustaf E. Lindskog International Travel Award and a solicitation of funds for this unique opportunity has been very successful ensuring that this program will be available in perpetuity.

For many years, the mutually beneficial relationship between YSS and the Development Office of the Yale School of Medicine has grown stronger. In the early spring of 2007, the president of YSS was approached by a representative of the Development Office with an intriguing concept. In essence, if YSS could attain the required minimum investment of $50,000, it could become an endowed Yale University entity. The proposal was brought before the other officers and then the executive committee. A number of negotiating meetings were held with the president, Andrew Graham and treasurer, John Fenn of YSS and Maureen Grieco and Jancy Houck of the Development Office to iron out the details of the indenture. This document was then unanimously approved by the executive committee at its regular meeting in December 2007. It was signed by Robert Udelsman, Chairman of Surgery, YSM, Andrew J. Graham, President YSS and John E. Fenn, Treasurer, YSS, on Wednesday, February 6, 2008. This final agreement became official with the signatures of Robert Alpern, Dean of the Medical School, and Inge Reichenbach, Vice President of Development, Yale University.

With this historic document, Yale Surgical Society has been established as a vital part of the Yale School of Medicine and the training program at Yale-New Haven Hospital. All contributions to YSS are now fully tax deductible and will continue to fund the present activities. The expected growth of the endowment under the superb management of the investment arm of Yale University will allow the society to prosper and to add other beneficial endeavors. The society will begin its fifteenth year in April, 2008 with a history of many achievements and its future secure.

Andrew J. Graham, M.D.
Founder of Yale Surgical Society
President, Yale Surgical Society