Following the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) annual meeting in San Diego earlier this week, the organization’s leadership has responded to controversial comments made by its outgoing president, John Calhoon, MD, of UT Health San Antonio, during his presidential address on Sunday.
The exact comments made by Calhoon weren’t referenced in the statement issued by the new president of the STS, Thomas MacGillivray, MD, of MedStar Health in Washington, D.C., and the organization’s board of directors. However, a number of posts on Twitter pointed to a particular slide from Calhoon’s presentation that was entitled, “Virtuous Ideals.”
Bulleted points on the slide included “Affirmative Action is not equal opportunity”; “Inclusion not the same as Diversity”; “Defining people by color, gender, religion only tends to ingrain bias and discrimination”; and “Best metric is simply whether someone does good.”
In their statement, MacGillivray and the board of directors said that the remarks are not representative of the organization’s views.
“The Society of Thoracic Surgeons welcomes and embraces all CT surgeons, trainees, and affiliated colleagues as valued members of our organization,” they wrote. “We believe the growing diversity of our membership strengthens our specialty and our ability to care for our patients.”
“We have come a long way in recent years to improve the diversity of our specialty and the STS, but there is much more to do,” they noted.
“Comments made in the presidential address by outgoing STS President John Calhoon were inconsistent with STS’s core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” they added. “Dr. Calhoon’s statements reflected his personal beliefs and not those of the STS.”
MacGillivray and the board said that the organization apologizes for the remarks, writing, “We know these comments were hurtful and we regret the pain they have caused to so many valued colleagues.”
The response from the STS comes as members of the medical community have taken to social media to express frustration and dismay over Calhoon’s comments.
“Surgery continues to be more diverse w/more women, races/ethnicities, sexual orientations, & other minoritized groups, & leadership must be held accountable to support all surgeons,” Eric Pillado, MD, a vascular surgery resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, wrote on Twitter. “This is why DEI is important in surgery. We can’t have statements like this.”
In another tweet, Imani McElroy, MD, MPH, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, wrote, “So please tell me more about how medicine has changed when a president of a whole surgical society chose this as his hill to die on … let me go find some bootstraps to pick up.”
In concluding their statement, MacGillivray and the board of directors wrote, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central principles of our society, and what we strive for in our profession and our practice. STS is committed to learning from this experience and taking action to reinforce our commitment to these values.”
Calhoon deferred MedPage Today‘s request for comment.