Dean Ford Named President of American College of Surgeons
The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine dean and chief academic officer calls for diversity and inclusion, to the benefit of patients.
Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was installed for a one-year term as the 104th president of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) on Sunday, October 22.
Reflecting his commitment to building a diverse professional workforce that embraces the concept of inclusive excellence, Dean Ford has chosen the theme, “Achieving Our Best Together,” to guide his time leading the organization. In his presidential address to the ACS Clinical Congress 2023, one of the largest educational meetings of surgeons in the world, Dean Ford asserted that a bold and courageous embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives help surgeons fulfill their mission of ensuring better outcomes for all patients.
“I believe that we are stronger and more vibrant today because of our intentional efforts, but the quest for health equity is far from over,” he said. “We must commit to the relentless pursuit of inclusive excellence, to ensure better outcomes for all patients.”
A long-time ACS fellow and former member of the ACS board of regents, Dean Ford said it was a “tremendous privilege” to be chosen president of the world’s largest surgical organization. In 2021, he was inducted into the ACS’s Academy of Master Surgeon Educators for consistently demonstrating the highest level of leadership and excellence in surgical education.
“It has been extremely meaningful to be part of the ACS, an organization with a rich history of inspiring quality and guiding generations of surgeons,” he said.
Advancing Collaboration and Inclusion
At the Miller School, collaboration and inclusion are two of Dean Ford’s guiding principles. He plans to emphasize both values as president of the ACS, which unites more than 87,000 surgeons worldwide.
“With the acceleration of scientific discoveries and their translation into clinical interventions, as well as the growth of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, we need a collaborative approach that brings together different disciplines,” he said. “It is important to unify the house of surgery in order to best serve our patients.”
As the “umbrella” organization for all surgical specialties, the ACS plays a key role in the profession through its educational offerings, quality improvement programs and advocacy of the surgical profession.
“At a time when our society is becoming increasingly polarized, it is essential for our members to truly understand the concept that we achieve our best together,” said Dean Ford.
The Value of Including the Underrepresented
He noted that having some members of the care delivery team from underrepresented minorities can improve patient outcomes.
“Even in the neonatal intensive care unit where the newborns cannot communicate, when there is a concordance between the patient and the care delivery chain, the outcome is invariably better,” he said. “That is an undeniable truth, and we need to embrace that. We can only achieve health equity by building a diverse workforce and embracing inclusive excellence.”
Dean Ford’s focus on inclusion includes reaching out to the 56 international ACS chapters, and members in low- and middle-income countries. He also serves as vice chair of ACS’s Operation Giving Back, the college’s surgical volunteerism initiative that serves the U.S. as well as countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Our members need to be able to develop and deliver outstanding surgical care, and achieve health equity in their regions,” he said. “We must make sure that they have access to the tools, knowledge, technology and support to care for their patients anywhere in the world, including underserved communities in the U.S.”
Teaching the “Joy of Surgery”
Dean Ford believes another aspect of the ACS’s responsibility is building a robust talent pathway by connecting with high school, college and medical students, and demonstrating “the joy of surgery.” He emphasized the importance of programs that promote pathways to surgery, including professional role models from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Just imagine being able to walk into a medical school classroom and explain how you remove the appendix in a patient with appendicitis,” he said. “By having an early presence in the lives of these impressionable souls who are still exploring medical careers, surgeons can transform lives. I know, because that’s what happened to me.”
As a student at Harvard Medical School, Dean Ford planned a career in internal medicine prior to his surgical clerkship. One evening, Dr. Ford was waiting by an elevator after watching Richard Wilson, M.D., the chief of surgical oncology, and his chief resident, Kurt Newman, complete a 10-hour operation.
“Dr. Wilson walked up to me and said, ‘Henri, have you considered going into general surgery? I think you would have a brilliant career in academic surgery.’ That brief conversation transformed my life. I knew then that I was going into surgery, and I’ve never looked back. It’s just been an absolute joy.”
Dr. Ford joined the ACS early in his career, calling membership “a badge of honor.” On a practical level, support from the ACS helped launch his academic career.
“I had submitted several grant proposals, but none had been accepted,” he recalled. “Then, I remembered Dr. Simmons, my research mentor, telling me that academic surgery is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to have endurance. You have to have resilience, and you cannot quit.”
Soon afterward, Dr. Ford applied for and received an ACS faculty development award.
“That award was a game changer for me, because it renewed my confidence,” he said. “It also helped me obtain preliminary data to get a grant from the National Institutes of Health and continue my research while seeing patients.”
Dean Ford’s Storied Career
As a pediatric surgeon, Dean Ford is an internationally recognized authority on necrotizing enterocolitis, a lethal disease that causes inflammation of intestinal tissue in premature infants. He has written more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, invited articles, abstracts and presentations.
He also has a strong reputation for mentoring physicians and physician-scientists, and he regularly returns to his native country of Haiti to teach, lead operating teams, and assist in developing surgical systems. In 2015, he performed the first successful separation of conjoined twins in Haiti alongside surgeons he helped train.
Since joining the Miller School in 2018, Dr. Ford has focused on developing the next generation of transformational leaders who will shape the future of medicine. Under Dean Ford’s leadership, the Miller School has increased its research funding from the National Institutes of Health from $128 million in 2018 to more than $175 million in 2022. The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research ranked the Miller School 38th in the nation and No. 1 in Florida for these federal research grants.
In 2022, Dean Ford was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, an honor that reflects his remarkable professional achievements and commitment to service in health and medicine. In addition, Dean Ford chairs the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges, leading 157 medical school deans in North America.
He is a recipient of the AAMC’s Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award. In 2021, Dr. Ford received the Arnold Salzberg Mentorship Award from the surgical section of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Excellence in Education Award from the National Medical Fellowship.
Now, Dean Ford is looking forward to leading his colleagues as ACS president.
“The past three decades have not only reinforced the concept that we achieve our best together, but have also demonstrated convincingly and unequivocally that inclusive excellence is essential to accelerate progress and heal all patients with skill and trust,” Dr. Ford said. “It is our pledge to carry the mantle in the struggle for health equity and to never waver from our core values as surgeons. This is our duty, this is our purpose, this is our calling.”