2024 | Volume 25 | Issue 3


Vice president perspective

The clock is officially ticking.

For those of you who were able to join us in Ōtautahi Christchurch and attend the Congress Dinner, you will know what I am referring to. At that event, towards the close of the Annual Scientific Congress (ASC), on 9 May, we started the 1000-day countdown to the RACS centenary.

How fitting it was to be able to have that moment in Aotearoa New Zealand in such proximity to Ōtepoti Dunedin, where the first official meeting of the then College of Surgeons of Australasia was convened in February 1927?

Reflecting on our first 100 years provides a timely opportunity for us to consider the reasons why the College came into being in the first place. It was the proposal of Professor (later Sir) Louis Barnett—a pioneer in hydatid research and early advocate for aseptic techniques—who wanted to form a body to raise surgical standards and recognise surgical expertise.

While our College has grown significantly in size and scope since then, Sir Louis’ vision is still at the core of all that RACS does. Raising standards and recognising expertise remain critical to the surgical profession and I know I am not alone in wanting to see our College continue to be able to carry out these roles for another 100 years and more.

Since deciding to pause the ballot for proposed constitutional change to allow for a greater period of engagement, we have been working to listen to the Fellowship and incorporate the reasonable suggestions that strengthen this important document. I always enjoy the interaction at the ASC and this year in Ōtautahi Christchurch, it was a great opportunity to speak to many of you in person along with the many one-on-one and small group conversations I’ve had in recent months.

I was heartened to see such strong support for a new governance structure. A hundred years is a long time and we have evolved in a complex environment and need to ensure our governance is fit for purpose for now and the future. Although the recent financial situation has necessitated a more fervent discussion, the reforms suggested have been proposed and debated over for several years at Council. The proposal is to establish a standalone skills-based, surgeon-led Board with strong financial and risk management abilities. This will leave Council to focus on its core business of continuing to lead the development of professional standards, research, education and training, and its critical role in advocating on behalf of the profession to government.  

I’ve been communicating about the proposed board structure a lot but there are some key areas that need to be emphasised. The Board, with fiduciary responsibility, will have crucially important skills-based directors but will be surgeon-led with a majority of FRACS directors determined by the membership. The Board will be the governing body of the College and Council will continue to oversee the critical core functions of training, education, advocacy and Fellowship services.

The president’s plenary session at the recent ACS was about Responsible Governance; what good contemporary governance looks like and how we will move forward to strengthen RACS towards the next centenary. We polled attendees during the session. There was overwhelming support for governance reform with 85 per cent in favour of establishing a skills-based Board as proposed. While six members of the audience were against change and the rest uncertain at the start of the session, by the end, only one person remained opposed and 92 per cent were in favour.

We have also had very positive interactions with many members across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand as well as our society leaders. It is great to see such concurrence of opinion on a matter I believe is central to the longevity of our College. I’m confident there is a better understanding, acceptance and hopefully ownership of a constitution that ushers in an era of sustainability and prosperity for RACS going forward.

Please watch this space as in the next couple of months the ballot will be reopened so you can provide your input and hopefully, we can usher in the long-discussed and positively anticipated reforms to our governance structure.

Professor Owen Ung
Vice President
Chair Governance Committee
Chair International Engagement