Now in its 45th year, the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) celebrates its annual meeting this month in conjunction with the triennial meeting of the International Federation of Foot & Ankle Societies (IFFAS). More than 900 U.S. and international attendees are expected at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, Sept. 19–23—setting attendance and exhibitor records.
With membership now topping 2,000 and propelled by reaccreditation from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education through 2020, the AOFAS anticipates significant growth in education, research, and outreach as it carries on the vision of its founders.
Decades of development
When the first president took the helm in 1969, the AOFAS, then known as the American Orthopaedic Foot Society, began planning its first scientific meeting, held in 1971. Within 10 years, external recognition of orthopaedic foot and ankle surgery had come in two forms: the Society’s annual meeting had been approved for Category 1 CME credit, and the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery had agreed to include at least one foot question on oral exams.
Rapid development of membership benefits and the Society’s wider influence came in the 1980s. The Foot & Ankle journal and the InStride newsletter made their debuts. The Society added “Ankle” to its name, the annual meeting reached a peak of more than 500 attendees, and the AOFAS Fellowship Match was implemented with the National Resident Matching Program.
The 1990s became the decade of boosting influence both at home and abroad. By 1994, the AOFAS had become the first orthopaedic specialty organization with a seat in the AMA House of Delegates, and the journal had been renamed Foot & Ankle International (FAI) to reflect growing global submissions. Other significant events included accreditation of foot and ankle fellowships by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and Society visits to meetings in Brazil and Japan.
In 2000, focus turned to standardizing the foot and ankle curriculum in all orthopaedic residency programs. The new Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Outreach & Education Fund (OEF) was approved by the IRS as a separate 501(c)(3) in 2004. The following year, the AOFAS separated from its association management company and became a freestanding organization, and by 2010, several new initiatives were in full swing, including the Resident Scholarship, Visiting Professor, and Traveling Fellowship programs, as well as the Resident Review Courses.
Leading in education, research
Today, the AOFAS is building on a solid foundation and focused on the following five key areas for future growth:
- continued education and recruitment of residents and fellows
- expanded research activities
- ongoing humanitarian initiatives
- wider outreach through public education efforts
- development of online resources and member benefits
A new five-year, $3 million fund-raising campaign by the OEF, as well as the continued hard work of volunteer members, will help move these and other efforts forward.
Attracting residents, fellows
Two of the fastest growing AOFAS initiatives have been the Resident Scholarship Program and the Fellowship Match Program. Launched in 2010, the Resident Scholarship Program invited 21 recipients to that year’s annual meeting. Today the program sends nearly 50 scholars a year. A total of 169 residents have received an all-expenses-paid trip to the AOFAS annual meeting, where they are matched with a mentor and take part in all meeting activities. Roughly half of each year’s Resident Scholars apply for membership.
The Fellowship Match Program continues to expand. The AOFAS received a record 86 applications this year, and 65 positions were filled. The number of foot and ankle positions in the match has increased 90 percent over the past 10 years, and the number of applicants usually exceeds the number of positions. Typically, 100 percent of fellows in AOFAS-sponsored matches become members.
For 2015, the focus will be on developing a curriculum of basic educational expectations for 1-year foot and ankle fellowship programs. Fellowship faculties will be asked to sign on and provide a description of how their programs will achieve the goals.
Spotlight on research
Several key projects reflect strong growth in orthopaedic foot and ankle research. A new initiative—the Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Outcomes Research Network (OFAR)—has been launched to collect and share data on both treatment and patient-reported outcomes. The next OFAR pilot phase will explore new ways to facilitate data collection and follow up with patients, paving the way for a nationwide, multisite network.
On the research grant front, competition heated up this year with 26 applications—twice as many as in 2013, indicating a robust and ongoing interest in orthopaedic foot and ankle research.
Manuscript submissions to FAI have also surpassed expectations following the Society’s move to SAGE, its new publisher. More than 800 manuscripts will be submitted this year, a 25 percent increase in submissions over 2013, underscoring the expanding influence of the journal. In addition, FAI will soon offer an exam for scored-and-recorded CME for 2013 articles.
In 2015, work on the OFAR initiative will continue, including the development of user-friendly interfaces and other tools to support data intake and reporting.
Humanitarian work in Vietnam
Since 2002, AOFAS volunteers have visited Vietnam each year to provide corrective surgery for children and adults with lower extremity deformities and disabilities. For 4 weeks, AOFAS volunteers travel to hospitals and rehab centers in Hanoi and the northern provinces of Vietnam, treating patients and working with local orthopaedic surgeons.
This year’s volunteer group evaluated more than 212 patients in clinics and performed surgery on 79 patients, all at no cost to patients. Since the first Overseas Outreach Project to Vietnam, more than 1,100 patients have benefited from free surgeries performed by AOFAS volunteers, and more than 2,600 clinic patients have been seen.
AOFAS surgeons pay for their own travel to Vietnam. In-country expenses are supported by the OEF with charitable donations from individuals and industry. As part of the project, AOFAS volunteers address the annual educational conference on Surgery of the Lower Extremities in Hanoi, which typically is attended by more than 100 Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons.
Planning for 2015 includes a possible move of the educational conference to the central city of Huế, which would expand the AOFAS volunteer presence in Vietnam.
Getting the word out
Mindful of the need for ongoing patient education and media outreach, the AOFAS has added nearly 70 new treatment articles to its patient-education site (FootCareMD.org). The site includes searchable information on more than 130 conditions, treatments, and how-to articles. Each article has been extensively peer reviewed and reflects the skill and professionalism of volunteer writers and reviewers.
Expanded social media and public relations efforts have helped drive traffic to the site, with nearly 1.5 million hits through July of this year, following a record-breaking 1 million hits for all of 2013. This is a five-fold increase in site traffic since 2012.
In the pipeline is a video explaining orthopaedic foot and ankle care that will be used on FootCareMD.org, the AOFAS main site, and YouTube. AOFAS members will be encouraged to use the video themselves to strengthen messages on the training and education of orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists and the conditions they treat.
Over the coming year, FootCareMD.org will be redesigned to enhance viewing on mobile devices.
New technology to lead the way
To improve access to member benefits and the overall administration of the Society, a new association management system (AMS) is being developed. The AMS will provide new options for members, including the ability to edit and update profiles, purchase multiple products and services in one shopping cart, and participate in a private social network.
A new Physician Resource Center (PRC) will launch this fall. As a searchable online library of AOFAS resources, the PRC will offer meeting abstracts, ePosters, and session recordings. Special features such as a buyer’s guide and image bank will be developed later.
The new AMS will launch early in 2015, and new material will be added to the PRC regularly.
It’s been a busy time. By year’s end, an office in the new building and several other new-for-2015 initiatives will drive the AOFAS toward its 50th anniversary in 2019!
Jennifer Hicks is the public education manager for the AOFAS. AAOS Now coverage of the AOFAS 45th annual meeting will begin next month.