Keith Lillemoe
Keith Lillemoe, MD

“If you ever see a turtle atop a flagpole, you know it had a lot of help getting there,” said Keith Lillemoe, MD, chief of the Department of Surgery, during the Sept. 7 Surgery Grand Rounds where he shared his 2017 American Surgical Association (ASA) Presidential Address. “I am the proverbial turtle and owe so much to so many.”

During “Surgical Mentorship: A great tradition, but can we do better for the next generation?” Lillemoe thanked his family, friends and an abundance of personal mentors throughout the years – including those from his early days at the University of South Dakota and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the MGH.

“One of the true benefits of coming to the MGH has been the great history of surgical leadership and how lucky I am to have three predecessors still at work nearly every day,” said Lillemoe of former department chiefs Paul S. Russell, MD, W. Gerald Austen, MD, and Andy Warshaw, MD. “They are always there when I need them and are all great personal mentors each in their own way.”

Lillemoe – who is the third MGH chief to have served as president of the ASA – spoke of his many mentors, most of whom he still considers friends, and of his own time as a mentor. “I take great pleasure and pride in the success of our trainees, many of whom are members of the ASA,” said Lillemoe. “It is a great honor that many of them still come to me, decades later, for career advice or with a question about a job opportunity. I am proud to have been associated with so many rising superstars in our field.”

Lillemoe also assessed current challenges in the mentoring system. “The major challenge for surgical mentoring now, and even more in the future, is advancing the dramatically increasing number of female surgeons,” he said. He stressed the importance of recruiting more female surgical leaders, the implementation of appropriate incentives – such as salary and promotion – for female faculty, and increasing membership and involvement of women in the leadership of the ASA and other organizations.

“Amongst our ranks there is tremendous talent in our female members worthy of recognition and of leadership opportunities,” said Lillemoe. “We as surgical leaders need to respond accordingly in our role as mentors for the current and next generation of surgeons.”

This article was originally published in the 09/29/17 Hotline issue.