Someone recently asked me what the highlights have been for me as Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) president. My first thought was that this was impossible to answer in less than 30 minutes. But after reflecting some more, I think I can sum up the year in two words: making connections. Not the superficial, “let’s do lunch” kind of connections, but rather true connections with colleagues, friends, societies, patients and families.
There are numerous ways to form connections. By the end of my term, I will have visited (in order) India, China, El Salvador, Peru, South Korea, Germany, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Japan. My adventures have included: 1) being in a small earthquake, 2) taking 52 hours to get to my final destination, 3) eating food that was still moving, 4) dancing and singing karaoke (both of which I do poorly), and 5) speaking right after someone who danced with a snake. I have witnessed an explosion of interest in SCCM-sponsored education worldwide, from our Fundamentals family of programs to the Multiprofessional Critical Care Review Courses and our first two international ultrasound courses. On a personal level, I have made innumerable new friends from all over the world. It is abundantly clear that critical care professionals are the same worldwide. Regardless of what resources we have, or what our intensive care units (ICUs) look like, how we look and sound, each of us cares first and foremost for the patient in the bed in front of us. Each of us truly wants to make a difference. The language of caring is truly universal.
While making new friends worldwide this year, I also learned to make connections in a way I never thought I would—via social media. I turned 50 years old during my presidency, and have long considered social media something reserved for a different generation. But after learning to use Twitter from SCCM social media gurus Ryan Davis and Melissa Nielsen, I learned to make connections with a whole new group of people via my account, @SCCMPresident. As painful as it is to admit for someone who likes to talk (and talk), tweeting 140 characters is a whole new way of connecting with people whom I might never have the chance to meet. I had the honor of participating in a sepsis Twitter chat with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that received 12.9 million impressions. I helped kick-start the first SCCM Twitter Journal Club. I even won “Tweet of the Week” (I was unaware such a thing existed) from MedPage Today on a tweet I sent about a TED Talk on early mobility and delirium. I tweeted links about new studies and communicated with the critical care community worldwide on a nearly daily basis. It allowed me to grow an Internet-based network that reached from my home in Atlanta to the furthest reaches of the globe.
Much of my year has been spent connecting with the both the past and the future. I was humbled to visit the Weil Institute this fall to learn more about the remarkable legacy of SCCM’s first president, Max Harry Weil, MD, PhD, MCCM. I assisted SCCM in helping sustain his legacy. As an organization, we made the commitment to preserve as many historically significant documents and pieces of equipment that he invented as possible. All of these will be available for public viewing in the future. Connecting through time to a true giant of our field and to those who knew him reinvigorated me with a sense of purpose.
As readers of my past presidential messages know, SCCM is aiming to emphasize the importance of research. The Society has tripled the amount of money it is giving out in research grants and forming the SCCM-Weil Research Trust. I am incredibly excited that this year we had a record number of grant submissions of the highest-caliber science. The research that we fund will help patients whom we have not yet met, connecting SCCM today to those in need of help in the future.
In a more immediate time frame, I am proud to have been a member of the Sepsis Definitions Task Force. The task force started as a partnership between SCCM and our friends at the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine. By the time a new data-driven, evidenced-based definition of sepsis is presented at our annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, it will have been endorsed across a variety of specialties by approximately 30 societies around the world. Interfacing with these societies—both those based in critical care and those not directly related to critical care—was an opportunity for a multitude of new connections to be formed. What started as 16 experts sitting around a room ended up with a strong global voice working together with the explicit desire to improve management of a devastating disease. New connections indeed.
At SCCM, the cornerstone of our existence is the ability to help patients and their families. My experiences at SCCM have reinvigorated me in my “day job” at the Emory Critical Care Center to be the very best, most compassionate intensivist I can be. I have connected in ever stronger ways to the patients and families whom we serve and to my coworkers and colleagues on the multiprofessional team who are the true heroes of critical care. I am deeply indebted to each of them.
So, what does an SCCM president do? The president makes connections with patients, families and colleagues. I’ve made new connections with those in my hospital, city, state, country and around the world. The president makes connections to the past, the present and the future. And as my year winds down, I continue to be humbled at the trust put in me, awed at the great things SCCM accomplishes, and filled with a sense of gratitude for all these connections. To all those I have connected with or will connect with in the future—thank you!