To quote Dickens: we are currently experiencing the worst of times. Never in living memory has the global community faced a pandemic that has wreaked global socio-economic havoc, brought misery upon millions of humans and decimated scores of people.

We as medical professionals have not escaped this malady. On the contrary, we have borne the full brunt of this medical tsunami, either as frontline clinicians or in terms of imposed restrictions on elective surgery.

What has been the most important thing we have done over the past 18 months?

Probably survived: survived contagion, deprivation, austere measures and hopelessness.

And adapted. Being surgeons, we are flexible, purposeful and decisive in our actions.

We have used digital platforms to good effect over the pandemic. Perhaps we even took it too far….We gorged ourselves on networking and lost the taste of fraternity. The new relationship we have forged with the internet has led to instant digital relationships; not the slow and gradual cultivation of uniting, lasting friendships.

Despite the challenges, the past 18 months have been a time of remarkable progress for ASSA. Forced to reflect, re-appraise and re-invent ourselves, we have matured in striking ways, and grown. I believe that ASSA is in a stronger position now than it has ever been, and I enumerate the many accomplishments:

  • Our finances are sound, attributable in a large part to financial stewardship and increased revenue streams
  • Membership has grown – at 910, we now have a record number of members
  • Communication has never been better: apart from the weekly newsletter, we have harnessed contemporary platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to reach out to members
  • Education platforms have burgeoned: there are weekly post-graduate tutorials, quarterly ethics talks and the bi-annual President’s Forums - a signature academic soiree for the connoisseur who prefers to engage in cerebral and somewhat philosophical exchanges with like-minded colleagues
  • Outreach programmes, very successful in 2019, are currently on hold. These programmes contribute to post-graduate teaching and skills development in centres where they are lacking due to staff shortages.
  • The ASSA Trust – our investment in future sub-specialist training – has been established. Professor Goldberg will elaborate on this
  • Our ongoing collaborative national relationships, particularly with the formidable FoSAS, to advance the cause of surgeons of all disciplines.

This has all occurred under the watchful guidance of the ASSA Chairperson, Professor Goldberg, whose resourcefulness and innovation never cease to amaze me. The young, dynamic ASSA Steering Committee have taken up the gauntlet and excelled themselves in their portfolios. I would be remiss not mentioning the phenomenal administrative team of Messers McLean and Parkes who are the glue that holds us all together.

Professionally, we can take great comfort in the knowledge that ASSA is taking care of our career development.

But personally, we remain unnerved that the global community is yet to exit the pandemic that started changing our reality since last year.

We now face new emotions that spill over into the work arena: guilt and fear.

Guilt gnaws at the back of our mind because we no longer touch our patients and we hide our faces behind masks. We know how crucial the sense of touch and a smile are to connect us on a fundamental level to humans.

Fear that we may succumb to compassion fatigue the longer this pandemic drags on; or that we may lose the joy our work has always given us.

But whenever we are assailed by guilt or fear, let us remember why we are here. We are here to change someone’s life; we have this opportunity every day, notwithstanding the pandemic. When we remove a diseased organ, resect a cancer, restore perfusion in a threatened limb or stop a life-threatening hemorrhage, we give a complete stranger a new lease on life. This is the unique privilege of our surgical career.

It reminds us of our purpose and gives us renewed resolve.

And to paraphrase the closing lines of A Tale of Two Cities

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I will ever do…”

Thank you for your kind attention.