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Insights from SSO Immediate Past President, Kelly K. Hunt, MD, FSSO

We spoke with SSO’s Immediate Past President, Kelly K. Hunt, MD, FSSO, about her past year as president, her accomplishments, and what advice she would pass on to future leaders.

Career Catalyst Mentorship Program

When asked which projects she’s most proud of, Dr. Hunt pointed to the Career Catalyst Mentorship Program (CCMP). The newly-launched program received an impressive number of applicants and Dr. Hunt says she’s looking forward to seeing the program develop. That started with a very productive session at SSO 2024.

What is the Career Catalyst Mentorship Program?
CCMP provides support and development opportunities for up-and-coming, mid-career surgical oncologists with leadership potential. Participants are matched with mentors for a week-long observership with a US-based SSO mentor.

“There are a lot of leadership courses offered by different organizations,” Dr. Hunt says, “and we really didn’t want to try to replicate some of those. We wanted to give a different type of opportunity, and I think this is really exciting for our members.”

The opportunities available in the program are as diverse as the applicants and mentors they were matched with. “We have some people who are serving as cancer center directors,” says Dr. Hunt, adding, “I don’t think that’s a job you can necessarily go take a course on. It’s a combination between a research career and also managing the grants and finances of a cancer center. It adds a whole other dimension to what we would do as a department chair or something of that nature.” Dr. Hunt says the Career Catalyst Mentorship Program offers SSO members access to the day-to-day activities required for these unique roles.

Long term, Dr. Hunt can see CCMP preparing more clinicians for executive leadership roles within healthcare. “Many of the healthcare institutions in the country have transitioned from physician leadership to administrative leadership,” she says. “So, you lose that connection between the clinical staff and the executive leadership, which starts to become more of a corporate kind of leadership structure.”

CCMP was designed to fill the gaps in leadership preparation within surgical oncology. Dr. Hunt is proud of the work SSO has done to launch this program and looks forward to seeing it evolve.

Engaging Residents and Students

While Dr. Hunt speaks of her term as a positive experience with many productive outcomes, she also spoke to challenges that arose within the past year. One of those challenges is engaging residents and medical students.

In order to meet the challenge head on, several leaders and SSO staff attended the Academic Surgical Congress, which is known to have high involvement from medical students and residents. SSO held a reception at that meeting and had a tremendous turnout–meaning they were able to inform students and residents of SSO’s programs and mission. More engagement opportunities, including two resident meet and greets at SSO 2024, and other ongoing initiatives continue to show SSO’s commitment to engaging with residents and medical students.

“I think another challenge that we face is how to partner better with general surgeons who are working across the country to take care of a lot of cancer patients but don’t necessarily see the value or don’t have the time to participate in SSO,” she says. To address this challenge, SSO leadership has partnered with the American College of Surgeons to jointly sponsor programs and try to increase awareness within the College’s membership.

Leaning into Global Partnerships

This past year, SSO added its 12th global partner, the West African College of Surgeons. Dr. Hunt had the opportunity to travel to several partner meetings and meet with international members. She attended ESSO’s meeting in Italy and also traveled to Korea, Mexico, Brazil, and India.

“We do see our global partners at SSO meetings [in the U.S.], but there’s nothing like seeing people where they live,” says Dr. Hunt.

For Dr. Hunt, the most important aspect of these global partnerships is preparing for the future of cancer research on a global level. “We know that cancer incidence across all types of cancers are increasing and are expected to more than double for some disease sites by 2040,” she says, adding, “and we know that we need to prepare more surgical oncologists for that need. There’s a lot that we can do together in preparing for those future needs. And we can’t do it alone as one society. We need to partner together to learn from each other and see how we can try to meet that global demand that we know is coming.”

Advice for Future Leaders

Ronald P. DeMatteo, MD, FSSO, began his term at the conclusion of SSO 2024. Dr. Hunt had some parting advice for him, as well as future leaders of the organization.

“The year goes by very quickly!” she says. “I think you need to be ready to dive in right at the beginning because it takes a while to get projects up and running,” she adds. Dr. Hunt also stressed prioritization. It’s natural for a president to want to leave their fingerprints behind, yet Dr. Hunt says that it will take focus and prioritization to move things forward within one short year.

She also recommends a focus on diversity, and that she’s committed to engaging surgical oncologists from different institutions and backgrounds. “We all practice in different areas, and very few people still do general surgical oncology,” she says, adding, “so, try partnering with more subspecialty groups.”

“Look for opportunities to engage those who you don’t know, and strengthen our relationships across subspecialty organizations,” she concluded.

Dr. Hunt certainly left her fingerprints on SSO during her presidency and put the Society on a positive path for years to come.

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