History of SPSA

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The United States military draft in the late 1950s greatly depleted the country’s physician manpower. This gave birth to the US Exchange Visitors’ Program to fill in the healthcare provider vacuum. Thousands of foreign physicians from around the world were “lured in” with various tempting incentives from US training hospitals and university medical centers, including the fly-now-pay-later plan, to fill in the gap.

Hundred upon hundreds of medical graduates from the Philippines joined their colleagues from other nations and responded to this open gate of opportunity to take their residency training in the land of milk and honey. Since then, most hospitals in the country have Filipino interns, residents, and nurses on their staff.

This era and “deliverance” has changed the image of the Filipinos in the United States, which in 1763, when the first “Manilamen” jumped ship and settled in Saint Malo in the Bayous of Louisiana, and even later, in the 1920s and 30s in California, was mainly that of sugarcane and pineapple farm workers cannery employees, and hotel kitchen help, to today’s complimentary “bias” on the minds of the public that presupposes all Filipinos in the United States are physicians and nurses, a general testimonial to their collective impressive professionalism and performance that captivated the Americans, including their peers in the medical profession.

Among the practicing surgeons in the United States in the 70s was a bright young mind in Chicago by the name of Hernan M. Reyes, M.D., then Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. In the late 1971, he broached to a colleague and friend, Isaias D. Sunga, M.D., also a Chicago-based general surgeon, his brainchild and dream of organizing a surgical society for Filipino-American surgeons in the United States. Dr. Sunga himself was bullish on the idea.

The main goal was to establish an Annual Continuing Medical Education seminar to encourage practicing Philippine-American Surgeons participate in interactive discussions regarding their experiences and achieve knowledge of developing advances in the surgical specialties primarily from their colleagues active in surgical education.

The organizing committee held its first meeting in January 26, 1972 at the Holiday Inn in Oak Lawn, Illinois with Drs. Hernan M. Reyes as Chair, Isaias D. Sunga, Secretary, and the following five as members: Drs. Vivencio R. Battung, Pedro A. Lucina, Juanito S. Bartolome Jr., Carmelita Carriaga and Andres O. Botuyan, all general surgeons practicing in Chicago and Suburbs.

Another meeting was held on February 2, 1972, where the final decision was made that there was enough interest around in the major cities in the United States to organize such a professional Society.

On February 23, 1972, the Organizational Committee was made official, and Dr. Reyes was voted Chairman and Dr. Sunga, secretary. A draft of the constitution was prepared and a preliminary list of prospective members was made. Dr. Vivencio Battung was appointed chairman of the Membership Committee.

Two subsequent meetings of the Organizational Committee were held on March 1, 1972 and April 15, 1972 at the La Tour Restaurant in Chicago. It was announced at this meeting that the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America (SPSA) was incorporated in the State of Illinois on April 6, 1972. On October 3, 1972, the group decided to meet in San Francisco, in conjunction with the Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons scheduled for October 20, 1972. On that fateful day, the San Francisco Holiday Inn, Fisherman’s Wharf, became the historical venue for a meeting of about 50 Filipino surgeons from the various parts of the United States and Canada. At this assembly, they expressed their commitment to the goals and objectives, vision and mission, and the by-laws of the fledgling Society of Philippine Surgeons in America, that were presented to them.

Dr. Hernan M. Reyes was elected interim president and all those present joined in as founding members. To coordinate the membership drive, Dr. Battung was confirmed chairman of the Membership Committee, and he appointed the following as members: Drs. Antony Donesa (Fort Wayne, IN), Abdul S. Aguam (Corona, New York), Jacinto Rios (Canoga Park, California), Godofredo T. Ng (Raleigh, N. Carolina), and Florentino Martin (Danville, KY). Dr. Sunga was designated Executive Secretary, with his office as permanent SPSA headquarters.

In January 1973, Dr. Battung, also Chair of the Committee on Elections, officially announced the list of newly elected officers: Hernan M. Reyes, M.D., president and president-elect; Carmelita Carriaga, treasurer; and the following as Board Governors: Drs. Antonio Donesa, Vivencio Battung, Juanito Bartolome, Caroline A. Centeno, Pedro A.Lucina, Antonio L. Santos, Abdul Aguam, Henry Manayan, Jacinto Rios, Henry Pimentel, Godofredo T. Ng, and Florentino A. Martin,

On September 12, 1973, the SPSA Board of Governors approved the three main programs for the Society which were discussed at the meetings on April 3, 1973 and on August 8, 1973: Membership Directory and newsletter, annual dinner dance in conjunction with the Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, and sponsorship of an annual Continuing Medical Education seminar for the members.

On October 15, 1973, a cocktail party was given for the SPSA Fellows at the Palmer House in Chicago. The first annual reception and dinner was held at the Continental Plaza in Chicago on October 16, 1973, attended by 150 members, and 24 surgical colleagues from the Philippines, who were attending the ACS Congress. The after-dinner guest speaker was J. Englebert Dunphy, M. D., Professor, University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco.

The SPSA Executive Committee held a meeting in Montreal, Canada, May 31-June 2, 1974. On October 21, that same year, the Society met at the Carriage House in Miami, Florida, during the ACS convention.

The First SPSA Annual Seminar in Surgery witnessed the gathering of the members in Kings Island in Mason, Cincinnati, Ohio, July 4-5, 1975. This was a hit. Playboy Club in San Francisco was the venue for the Annual Fall Reception on October 14, 1975, during the ACS meeting. The guest lecturer then was David Skinner, M.D., the Dallas B. Phemister Professor of Surgery and Chairman of Surgery at the University of Chicago.

The SPSA held its Annual Seminar in Surgery every year. One distinct and memorable seminar was the one held on July 19-24, 1981 in Hilton Head, South Carolina, which was attended by more than 650. That year, more than 70 new members joined the Society, resulting in a record-breaking SPSA Roster of 440 Fellows, with 104 Life Members. The unexpected massive turnout urgently required an additional on-the-spot billeting at a second nearby hotel. The incumbent president that year, Philip S. Chua, had to deliver his inaugural address ( "An Appointment with Destiny" ) twice, one following the other at each of the two hotels. It was, indeed, a sight to behold, a glorious moment for the SPSA.

As years went by, it became obvious that the lifeblood of the SPSA was its CME and the camaraderie of colleagues in this exclusive and prestigious Society. This validated the original concept of the Society organizers that a quality yearly CME, a Professorial Lecturer, and a renowned Surgeon Guest Speaker at the SPSA Reception-Dinner during the ACS Congress, would confer a great prestige and integrity to the Society and attract members.

Now entering into it’s 35 th year of existence, the mission and goals of the society gradually evolved to include, aside from it’s CME program, postgraduate scholarship in the United States for graduating surgical residents in the Philippines, and humanitarian services to the underserved communities in the Philippines. All of the Presidents of the Society, in collaboration with the Board of Governors and membership, continue to maintain the prestige of this highly respected ethnic surgical organization in this country. New programs have been organized and existing programs have been strengthened. The major activities of the Society today are:

I. A four-day Annual Continuing Education Seminar in Surgery held during the summer. Dr. Reyes who served as the first permanent Chairman of the CME Committee initiated this program in 1975; obtained the program’s full accreditation for Category I credit by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education of the AMA (the first and to this day, the only ethnic organization so accredited) and laid the foundation for its excellent quality and success. It has been continuously re-accredited every four years since and in the mid-1980’s, Dr. Reyes relinquished this responsibility to Dr. Benjamin Zamora, General Surgeon from Elizabeth, New Jersey who made this Annual Seminar a remarkable Educational experience to its membership. The SPSA remain the only ethnic organization duly accredited by the ACCME of the AMA.

II. Dr. Philip Chua, a practicing Cardiovascular Surgeon and Past President of the SPSA, from Northwest Indiana became the Founding Editor of the Society’s newsletter, edited and published the first issue in March, 1975 and laid the groundwork for succeeding publications evolving from a newsletter into a well read and respected News-magazine. In the fall of 1997, after twenty-two and a half years at the helm, he relinquished this responsibility to Dr. Manuel Estioko, a practicing Cardiovascular Surgeon from California who was subsequently succeeded by Dr. Edward E. Quiros, a Hand and Upper Extremity Surgeon from Texas. They are both Past Presidents of the Society.

III. Dr. Sariel Ablaza, a Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgeon from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, SPSA president in 1980, was the main force behind the establishment of the Philippine Surgeons Charity (PSC) Foundation, his brain-child, whose sole purpose was to provide financial support for the goals of the society in Surgical Education and charitable endeavors. Together with Philip S. Chua, who would succeed him in 1981 as SPSA president, he founded the Philippine Surgeons Charity during, with the two of them as incorporators. On January 7, 1981, an IRS advance ruling granted the PCS a tax-exempt status under section 510(c)3 of its code.
The succeeding Chairs of the PCS Foundation were Drs. Mel Simon, Hernan M. Reyes, and Pacifico Dorado as of year 2005.

IV.Drs. Mel P. Simon, Urologist from Gallipolis, Ohio and Daniel Fabito, a General and Vascular Surgeon from St. Louis, Missouri, both SPSA Past Presidents, initiated and organized the first SPSA Surgical Missions to the Philippines in 1985. This annual mission has since been reorganized, re-structured with appropriate credentialing of participating members. It has been continuously led subsequently by Drs. Pacifico Dorado, a General Surgeon from Ironton, Ohio and Manuel Cacdac, Neurosurgeon from Terre Haute, Indiana, both Past Presidents of the Society. Surgical activities are conducted in communities with the greatest need for the services of surgical specialists. In addition, accurate recording and scrutiny of cases and strict monitoring of the quality of surgical care were maintained. This program is now well established and renowned for its valuable contributions to the health care of underserved members of the population in various towns in the Philippines. Among the regular participants besides the co-chairs of the program are: Drs. Ben Zamora (CME Chairman), Ed Quiros, Bing Quiros, Bayani Ignacio, Manny Roco, Ludy Dorado, Fe Cacdac, Tony Gualberto and their respective spouses. Other past participants included Johnny Montero, Doming Alvear, the late Neopito Robles and many other members and officers of the Society.

V. The SPSA Board of Governors initiated the SPSA Traveling Fellow Program in 1990. The program sponsored annually a young General Surgeon from the Philippines fresh out of Residency for a six-month observation of various Medical Centers in the United States. Dr. Mel P. Simon initially chaired the Traveling Fellow Committee whose responsibility is to oversee the overall implementation of the program’s objectives. The Committee is currently under the able leadership of Dr. Rafael Zaragoza, Urologist from Dover, Delaware, and a Past President of the Society. New objectives will be implemented in the incoming years. Past Fellows of the program have gone on to successful surgical careers in the Philippines and a few became Chairs of their respective surgical departments in local hospitals.

VI. Recognizing some of the needs in the Philippines, the Society elected to support two fully trained General Surgeons, members of the faculty in two medical schools in Manila, Philippines to observe the various aspects of trauma care in Level I Trauma Centers in the United States. This period of observation allowed them to institute changes in Trauma care especially in the City of Manila and are currently the leaders in this field in the Country.

VII. Dr. Enrico Garcia, SPSA Past President and General Surgeon from Terre Haute, Indiana, assisted by Dr. Daniel Fabito together with their counterparts from the Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS) in the Philippines launched the first collaborative educational program between the SPSA and the PCS during last year’s PCS Annual convention in the Philippines. This collaboration will hopefully expand to other programs of interest to both organizations.

VIII. Dr. Oscar M. Laserna, who was inducted SPSA president July 2006, immediately commissioned the establishment of a website for the SPSA, and appointed Philip S. Chua as Website Director in August 2006. Dr. Laserna vowed to utilize the official website of the Society, SPSAtoday.com, to achieve his administration’s theme and goal: “Reaching Out and Giving Back”.

Members of the Society remain active in their respective communities – not only in their respective practices (private practice, academic practice, government and non governmental HMO organizations) but also in numerous political, civic, social and other community outreach programs. Members of the Society have been recipients of numerous awards from their communities and numerous organizations both locally and internationally recognizing their contributions to the health care of their communities, education, research, civic activities, advocacy of health issues and volunteerism in the United States and abroad. In this regard, three Past Presidents’ of the Society are among the very first who received Volunteerism Awards from the American College of Surgeons, namely, Drs. Juan Montero, General/Thoracic Surgeon from Norfolk, Virginia (National Volunteerism), Rafael Zaragoza, Urologist from Dover, Delaware (National Volunteerism) and Domingo Alvear, Pediatric Surgeon from Hershey, Pennsylvania (International Volunteerism).

In spite of a gradually ageing membership of the SPSA, with a significant number of its Fellows already retired or on the verge of retiring from their respective practices, the Society remains active, vibrant and committed to the vision, mission, goals, and objectives of this esteemed organization.

What is in store for the SPSA? Only God knows. But whatever it will be, one thing is for certain: The Fellows of this exclusive and prestigious brotherhood of Filipino-American surgeons in the United States, who have honorably practiced their art in this country and have served the American people with dignity and pride, will leave behind an exalted and lasting legacy of professionalism, integrity, excellence, service to humanity, and compassion for their fellowmen.

By Hernan M. Reyes, MD, FACS

Emeritus Professor of Surgery, Rush Medical College, Rush University Medical Center Assistant Dean for Surgical Services, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, Past Professor of Surgery and Chair, Section of Pediatric Surgery, University of Illinois , College of Medicine in Chicago. Emeritus Chairman, Department of Surgery, Cook County Hospital, Chicago, IL

Sources: Personal recollections, data from the inaugural issue of The Philippine Surgeon Newsletter, Vol. I, No. 1, March 1975, and The Philippine Surgeon Magazine Vol. XXVII, No. 1, 2002

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History of SPSA

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| Website Director: Edward E. Quiros, MD, MBA, FACS, FICS at EdQui@aol.com