Welcome to December where the calendar is filled with abstract and registration deadlines to various meetings through the summer of 2022. In this month‘s column, we are highlighting the Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society (VESS). Formerly known as the Peripheral Vascular Surgery Society (PVSS), VESS traditionally holds its winter annual meeting at a ski resort and is renowned for its casual attire dress code at its meetings. VESS is chic and boasts a loyal membership. But what is its secret sauce?
To find out, we’ve invited two young surgeons and a past president to share their VESS origin stories and more. Matthew Smeds, MD, is the chief of vascular surgery at the St Louis University Hospital, St. Louis, and is involved with several VESS committees; Venita Chandra, MD, is the vascular surgery fellowship and residency program director at Stanford Health Care, Stanford, California, and co-chairs the resident education committee at VESS; and Matthew Corriere, MD, is a vascular surgeon at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the immediate past president of VESS. Here’s what they had to say:
On his VESS origin story: I was encouraged to attend the VESS (then the PVSS) winter meeting during my vascular surgery fellowship by Brian Peterson, a younger faculty member at my institution. I presented a paper on the early use of the C3 excluder in high-risk aortic necks and was blown away by the camaraderie, openness to discussion, and support of trainees, medical students, and young faculty by the membership. Another defining moment was the then VESS president (and one of my mentors from medical school) Karl Illig walking into the morning session where I was supposed to present. He was in his bathrobe and making an announcement that if we were wearing ties, we were doing it wrong (in response to which I slowly removed my tie!).
After becoming faculty, I began to regularly attend the winter meeting; I’ve been to all but one since graduation, and an early mentor of mine, Peter Nelson, encouraged me to get involved with society committees. I became a member of the program committee for the spring meeting and have been involved in many other committees since then.
On VESS and developing a surgical career: VESS has been instrumental in my career development, as it’s given me the opportunity to have a voice in a national society both by my involvement with the societal committees, but also as a platform in which to present research and network with like-minded surgeons. I have gone on to collaborate with many individuals who I’ve met at the meeting, or in committees, and developed good friendships with many. I think the best thing about VESS is the society’s openness to involving young vascular surgeons. It’s very easy to get involved and contribute. You don’t have to be a “bigwig” or have gray hair. And, what’s more, I feel a lot of things are actually accomplished by the various committees, as it’s a much easier society to navigate than some of the larger surgical societies. One example was an idea we had to create a virtual residency fair during the first year of COVID for medical students who were not able to travel to visit institutions. I proposed the idea in June, and the society made it happen by September with very little red tape.
What VESS has to offer young surgeons and trainees: VESS has many wonderful opportunities for medical students, trainees, and younger faculty. The medical student education program during the winter meeting is a great opportunity for students to learn about vascular surgery, experience a national vascular meeting, and meet surgeons, other students/trainees, program directors and leaders of institutions across the country in a very non-threatening and enjoyable atmosphere. VESS has sponsored virtual residency fairs yearly for the past two years that will likely continue, and this provides applicants the opportunities to meet with programs from across the country prior to the interview season.
Similar to the student program, the resident/fellow educational session is a great chance for trainees approaching the end of their training to network and learn about the “real world” (and attend the VESS winter meeting if they haven’t already). During the spring meeting held at the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM), the opportunity exists for young faculty to be “discussants” for abstracts being presented. This helps them get familiar with standing up in front of a crowd and discussing a paper/asking questions of presenters.
For young surgical faculty, opportunities such as the mentorship program, the traveling fellowship, and committee positions/involvement can help them get involved and active in the society. For everyone, the opportunity to submit abstracts for presentations is great, and the society really embraces hearing new voices and topics during its meetings. My rule is to always have something submitted to VESS, and you should too! Finally, there are significant opportunities in social media to take part in societal happenings. I’d encourage everyone to follow the society (@VESurgery) on Twitter or Instagram and to check out the VESS YouTube channel that has prior meeting presentations, as well as surgical technique videos uploaded. VESS is truly the premier society for young vascular surgeons. Any medical student, vascular trainee, or young surgical faculty should try to get actively involved. You won’t regret it.
On her VESS origin story: I first got involved in VESS as a vascular surgery fellow several years ago now. I found the programming for trainees at the time really helpful—targeted and thoughtful topics that were very relevant to me at that point. I also appreciated the opportunity to listen in on the conference. It was so refreshing to hear good science in a more casual environment. I was rubbing shoulders with people I looked up to, finding them all very approachable. Meeting people at this conference was a key part of my feeling like I “belonged” in the vascular surgery community.
VESS and developing a surgical career: As I mentioned above, the casual and more laid-back environment allows a chance to break the ice with many people you look up to from afar. This opened the doors for me to be involved in various collaborations, get invitations to various conferences, and, in general, have a wider audience of people I called friends and peers across the country.
On opportunities from VESS worth highlighting for younger surgeons and trainees: The trainee programs are really great. Great topics, good opportunities to get to know each other and start the process of getting to know a lot of the other members of this amazing society! Honestly, it’s the relationships and friendships that come from this meeting that make VESS the amazing society that it is. As Dr. Smeds has outlined, we want you in VESS.
Reflections on VESS from a mid-career vascular surgeon: My first VESS meeting was in 2004, and I was a general surgery resident at the time. Back then, the society was a bit smaller and called the PVSS. I had been to a few other academic conferences by then, but it was clear on the first morning
that this one was different in several wonderful ways. The attire was informal, and the interaction was more personal and relaxed. I could see the presenters’ faces without the need for big-screen projection. The queue at the microphone seemed almost inviting—the people in the question line did more smiling than scowling, and some of them even had natural hair that was not yet gray. Faculty, trainees and families mingled between sessions, and the discussions seemed unexpectedly pleasant. People were getting re-acquainted on more than just work. “What gives?” I thought. Some of these folks were the same successful vascular surgeons I had previously encountered elsewhere in more sterile meeting environments. They were up-and-comers in the field whose names could be found on prominent textbook chapters and journal articles.
At VESS, however, the vibe was different. With everyone sporting resort wear and surrounded by snow-covered peaks, there was a curious lack of politics, power lunches, or jockeying for position. I wondered if it might be a group case of altitude sickness, but it turned out that people were just relaxed and having fun.
Attending VESS for the first time: Speaking of altitude, my first VESS meeting was also my first trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. My mentor and lab predecessors had alerted me to anticipate wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities. I had to borrow my gear from a fellow resident who did not need it that week (fortunately, he was pursuing another specialty that will go unnamed but frowns on informal dress and seldom appreciates the concept of fun outside the hospital).
As it turns out, both fun and laughter ensue when well-rested vascular surgeons convene in a beautiful place while separated from pagers, the emergency room (ER), vascular emergencies, and other interruptions. Under these circumstances, one might take advantage of opportunities to laugh directly at attendings over circumstances that seldom arise at work, such as being out of shape, becoming a “yard-sale” (a term I learned after unknowingly demonstrating it to an esteemed New Englander colleague), or even publicly displaying hat-head hair chaos. As a young resident scraping by each month to put food on the table and pay the mortgage, I never would have made that first trip without the presentation opportunity. I left feeling energized and incredibly grateful.
Great science coupled with great relaxation: Reflecting on my experiences with VESS over the past 17 years, I have acquired gray hair of my own. Other more pleasant epiphanies also come to mind. I have lost count of how often I have returned with my wife and kids (who are now adults), who caught on quickly and began reminding me on the trip home each year to earmark abstracts for next time. The meeting is no longer a secret— VESS has outgrown some of the smaller venues and hotel demand consistently exceeds supply.
Correspondingly, the submissions are increasingly competitive, and it is never a given that a high-quality abstract will make the program (case in point: the Corriere lab got skunked this year, demonstrating absence of bias favoring the immediate past president).
Beyond the meeting, VESS has blossomed into a vibrant society working year-round on issues dear to young vascular surgeons like clinical practice, diversity, education and career development.
The networking, committee and leadership opportunities VESS creates are unparalleled, and seldom available elsewhere for early-career surgeons. I am also enjoying the swap from presenting at the podium myself to getting trainees and students up there for the first time. So, become a member; sign up here: www.vesurgery.org/my-vess.
Christopher Audu, MD is a vascular surgery resident at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Laura Marie Drudi, MD, is a vascular surgeon at Centre Hospitalier de L’Universite de Montréal.