Wayne State Surgical Society (WSSS)
The Wayne State Surgical Association (WSSS) was established in the early 1980s by Dr. Alexander Walt, the Penberthy Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Wayne State University (WSU) from 1966-1988. During the previous ten years, a number of changes that effected the WSU surgery program occurred. The independent surgical residency program at the Harper Hospital was discontinued and the residents were incorporated into the WSU surgical program. The independent surgical residency at the Grace Hospital discontinued and was incorporated into the WSU surgical program. The independent and private Harper Hospital and the independent and private Grace Hospital joined forces with the WSU and the Federal Government to create a new Harper/Webber/Grace Hospital which would incorporate the old Harper Hospital and the downtown branch of the Grace Hospital into a single institution at which the chairperson of the department of surgery would be the professor and chairman of the WSU Department of Surgery. This momentous achievement took place in the early 1970s as the new Harper/Webber/Grace Hospital was completed. Later that decade, a decision was made to close the old Detroit General Hospital and build a new Detroit Receiving Hospital on the same campus as the WSU School of Medicine and the new Harper/Webber/Grace Hospital which was adjacent to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. Shortly thereafter, the City of Detroit decided to build the new Receiving Hospital which opened in 1980 at the same time as WSU New University Health Center.
These multiple activities unified the health care activities provided by WSU and the multiple hospitals within one center which became known as the Detroit Medical Center. This unification stimulated Dr. Walt to create a more unified surgical family among the current residents and faculty and the prior residents and faculty who were continuing their careers in other locations.
During these years, Dr. Walt was a Regent of the American College of Surgeons and believed it would be ideal for this newly created WSSS to meet yearly at the annual ACS meeting. This annual ACS meeting every three years would take place in Chicago when Dr. Walt arranged for the different surgical alumni practicing in various parts of the country to return to their WSU home on the weekend prior to the ACS meeting which always began on a Sunday during the early part of October. He organized a symposium at which the former residents would present a brief educational case from their active practices which, of course, would lead to much discussion. Typically, there would be both humor and education as the alumni bantered each other about their clinical decisions.
The concept of the WSSS grew and most of the former residents and faculty became active members for the modest fee of $100/year. This has been increased to $200/year. Although the policy of having a reunion every three years prior to the ACS meeting in Chicago gradually fell into disfavor because of travel inconvenience, the concept of having an organization which brought the current and former trainees together thrived.
Dr. Walt also recognized the potential importance of the WSSS in supporting the current surgical residents-in-training. He convinced the original officers that, in addition to the $100 annual membership fee, there ought to be the opportunity for the former surgical residents who are now busy practitioners to become life members for the donation of $10,000. This could be given as $1,000/year over a 10-year period or in one lump sum. He also envisioned that there might be a mechanism for life members to continue their support of resident education by donating one operation per year to the WSSS. Dr. Walt’s vision was rewarded in that many of the former residents have become life members in addition to supporting the residency training program by donating one operation per year. This support by former residents has allowed for the WSU Department of Surgery to cover the expenses for all of the senior residents attending the annual Congress of the ACS, for residents presenting papers at national meetings, and for providing an annual educational lecture called the “WSSS Lecture” plus a reception the evening before the “WSSS Lectureship” for the visiting professor. The WSSS became more formalized when a constitution and officers were drawn up in the early 1990s. The first president of the WSSS was Dr. Robert Allaben (WSUSOM 1956) who served from 1993 through 1997. This tenure of President included the time before and after Dr. Walt’s death in 1995. The former residents and faculty who have served as president of the WSSS represent both full-time faculty members and private practitioners (Table 1). The WSSS Lecturers have been distinguished surgeons from all walks of life and each of their WSSS Lectures have been well received (Table 2).
Dr. Mark A. Herman (WSU/GS 1994/2001) passed the baton of presidency to Dr. Randalll W. Smith (WSU/GS 1981/86) at the WSSS gathering during the American College of Surgeons meeting in October, 2014. Dr. Herman hopes that all former residents will become lifetime members of the WSSS and participate in the annual sponsored lectureship and the annual reunion at the American College of Surgeons meeting.