2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 3

After six years, the RACS Annual Scientific Congress (ASC) made a triumphant return to Adelaide, which played host to the 91st iteration of the Congress.

Much has changed since the ASC visited the City of Churches last. Sadly, the 2020 ASC was cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and while subsequent ASCs were held in 2021 and 2022, capacity restrictions meant that physical attendance at these events was significantly limited.

The 2023 Congress was therefore significant as it represented the first time physical attendance was unrestricted since the Bangkok Congress in 2019. This was the largest surgical conference held in Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand in the past five years.

Despite the disruption, the 2023 Congress demonstrated that there still remains a strong interest in this unique gathering of Fellows, Trainees, specialist international medical graduates, and medical professionals from all over the globe.

The highly anticipated 2023 Congress did not disappoint and featured many highlights throughout the week. While these were too numerous to describe individually, a brief selection is provided below:

Scientific program

The Scientific program was divided into 280 sessions, involving 800 presentations, including 650 published e-posters. Among the presentations were the daily plenary sessions, various keynote speakers, specialty specific presentations and several memorial lectures.

Equity in Surgery was the theme for the week, and this was reflected throughout the presentations. Immediate past president of RACS, Dr Sally Langley said before the conference, “Historically, RACS surgeons have not been a diverse group and have mostly worked in our own locations. We have not fully represented the gender nor the diverse Indigenous and ethnic composition of our community. We also have not served communities who live outside our metropolitan areas well.

“Upon reflection, we have been working on improving gender equity in our surgical specialties and further to that, we openly acknowledge our LBGTQIA+ representation in our surgical workforce and society. RACS prioritises equitable services to all communities regardless of their demographics.”

The scientific program provided the perfect opportunity for delegates to learn more about the challenges and barriers preventing equity, and what role they can play as leaders in the health profession to contribute to improvement of a workforce that is diverse and serves all people. It also provided an opportunity to self-evaluate and acknowledge the impact of our own biases on our judgement and decisions and their impact on patient care.

Convocation and opening night ceremony

The opening night convocation saw us proudly welcome 165 new Fellows to the College. The new Fellows were presented with their Fellowship by Dr Sally Langley, who wished them well on their professional journeys. She reflected proudly on the increased diversity in the profession since she first became a Fellow of the College.

A number of outstanding Fellows and friends of the College were recognised through the ceremony, with several worthy recipients receiving awards and commendations for their contributions to surgery.

The Syme Oration

The Sir George Syme Oration is the most prestigious address in the College’s annual calendar, and was delivered by Chief Scientist for South Australia, Professor Caroline McMillen. She discussed the epic work of surgery, particularly noting the use of quantum technology in epilepsy surgery. She defined surgery as a profession with innovation at its core and encouraged the audience to think of future convocations where the currently inducted Fellows will be delivering presentations about their work at the forefront of innovation incorporating technology in surgery.

The Indigenous Health Breakfast

One of RACS key advocacy priorities is a commitment to improving the health outcomes of our Indigenous populations in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. The Indigenous breakfast, held on 3 May was the perfect way to begin the day’s Indigenous Health program; it was also an opportunity to recognise the contribution of several well deserving award recipients.

Another highlight of the morning was hearing the story of Robert Taylor. Robert's heritage includes from three language groups—Kaurna from the Adelaide Plains, Narrung from the Yorke Peninsula and Ngarrindjeri from the lower River Murray and Coorong Region. He entertained and educated the group about Aboriginal culture, language and music.

RACS Women in Surgery Annual Breakfast and Business Meeting

This year’s Women in Surgery Annual Breakfast and Business Meeting noted the introduction of new committee members and celebrated the winner of the Women in Surgery essay competition, Dewi Ang. Dr Pecky De Silva, Women in Surgery Chair, discussed the progress of increased representation of women in leadership and the importance of continuing to break down barriers for women entering surgical training.

Guest speaker Eloise Hall, co-founder of Taboo period products, provided a moving and inspirational discussion on her journey with co-founder Isobel Marshall in founding their social enterprise. She spoke powerfully on the need for leaders to be grounded in humility and the importance of recognising that we are all as human as each other. A wonderful morning was enjoyed by all and the meeting ended with the traditional group photo.

President’s lecture – The Hon. Mark Butler, Australian Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care

The President’s lecture was delivered by the Hon. Mark Butler, Australian minister for Health and Aged Care. The minister’s speech covered a range of topics, mainly focusing on government measures to strengthen Medicare. The minister said that the healthcare system was facing challenges due to demographic changes, increases in chronic diseases and substantial financial pressure. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the health system to the edge.

The minister thanked RACS for its frank and fearless advocacy on cosmetic surgery issues and reiterated the government’s commitment to working with surgeons. RACS Fellows then had the opportunity to ask the minister questions.

Congress dinner and handover ceremony

The Congress dinner featured a ceremony with Dr Sally Langley and Professor Chris Pyke handing over the presidency and vice presidency to Associate Professor Kerin Fielding and Professor Owen Ung as our new president and vice president. It was a historic moment as a woman president handed the mantle to another woman president for the first time in the College’s history. Professor Owen being the College’s first Asian-origin vice president was also another first.

We thank Dr Sally Langley and Professor Chris Pyke for the leadership, grace, dignity and compassion they brought to their roles and welcome Associate Professor Kerin Fielding and Professor Owen Ung to their new roles.

The general feedback received was that the ASC was of an exceptional quality. Most found it a useful experience from which they learned and could take back to their practice.

Congratulations and thank you to the conveners of the event, Associate Professor Amal Abou-Hamden, and Dr David Walters, as well as the many section conveners. Congratulations also to the staff who ably supported them, particularly the conference and events team.

As we bid farewell to Adelaide, work is already underway to ensure that the 92nd RACS ASC is every bit as successful. We look forward to welcoming you all again to Christchurch in 2024!