Why Celebrate: ACC's 40th Anniversary?

The story of the founding of the American College of Cardiology was delightfully recalled by Dr. Simon Dack, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, in the Letters to the Editor the August 1988 issue. Dr. Dack described the energetic and able founder Dr. Franz Groedel and his colleague Dr. Bruno Kisch as the two prime movers who saw the potential of a solely professional heart society, incorporated and launched it, taking the name American College of Cardiology. Dr. Philip Reichert served as Secretary, and the College was founded in 1949. It weathered the accidental death in 1951 of Dr. Groedel and began the annual meetings, launched its first journal and distributed some research funds.

A group of us who were the first young academic cardiologists coming on the scene after World War II took our lead from our own senior chiefs and few of us joined the new organization. The fact that our own chiefs had founded the American Heart Association was, of course, a major reason why this new upstart organization was not well received. This response was magnified by the then recent decision of the American Heart Association to become a voluntary health association with major emphasis on fund-raising; a new heart group, it was felt, could only dilute the intensity of the American Heart Association’s fund drives and perhaps even confuse the public’s philanthropy. The fact that the American Heart Association had been founded by America’s best academic cardiologists—and that the beneficiaries of the new fund-raising effort would be the academic centers—was balanced against the heavily European origins of the College founders who, though of great repute in Europe, carried no academic aura here in the United States.

The new organization did survive, however, and did attract a few hundred physicians into membership. At the same time some of us found the new fund-raising, grant-giving emphasis of the American Heart Association definitely changing the collegiality of that organization. At the same time the immense rate of change that was occurring in cardiovascular medicine, brought on by the cardiac catheter making precise diagnosis possible and offering surgical solutions for congenital and valvular heart disease, created much new knowledge. Entire new fields of cardiovascular information opened up; the practicing physician recognized his own need for high grade incremental new knowledge. Suddenly continuing medical education became a major need.

Many at academic medical centers found this kind of teaching, a practical applied clinical physiology, a burden they did not wish to assume. Many of the brightest academic stars who were very able in the laboratory were not especially proficient as clinician teachers and were not always sympathetic to the practicing physician.

In my own environment, the cardiovascular laboratory at the University of Kansas, I found myself at the grass roots of the practicing physician. Not only were we at the end of the funnel for a large referral practice, we also participated in a twice yearly circuit course in the state, and this gave me an intimate education as to both the quality of the local practitioners (“LMD”) and their real desire to learn and be “up to date.” I saw this need, and at the University of Kansas I became heavily involved in continuing medical education. Parenthetically, I was involved in the finding, grooming and encouraging of a delightful young man from Halstead, Kansas. This young novice began at the wheat field level, with the responsibility for driving the station wagon, taking us on the circuit courses and setting up the screen and projector for the sessions, which sometimes had audiences of 15 or 20 physicians.

A few other academic centers took on a similar role in regional continuing education, but my own sense was that something was missing: there was a need for a national forum, a place where the physician in practice could come, learn the latest and the best, see the exhibits and equipment and join in a collegiality experience with his and (increasingly) her peers. The American Heart Association had served this role, but many of us noted its emphasis had moved to research and raising funds for research and there was need for an additional organization to address the needs and problems of the practicing physician. A small group of us decided that, although we were not members of the College, its name itself was a valuable property, its potential was real and the missing quality of collegiality could be found there.

We recognized that the very act of joining the new organization would irritate and even alienate the establishment of American cardiology. I made a special trip to Boston to tell my own chief, Dr. Paul Dudley White, what I felt was missing, why I doubted the American Heart Association would or could provide it and that I was definitely going to give my best effort to raising the potential of this new organization.

The College achievements

My own involvement began in 1959. We were the second stage rocket, building on the organizational skills of the founders. Now, as the organization reaches age 40, it is fair to ask, “Why celebrate?” What are the achievements? What a pleasure it is to list them:

  • Remember the young man from Halstead, Kansas driving the station wagon for the circuit courses? He is now the remarkably able Executive Vice President of the American College of Cardiology, William Nelligan.
  • The College moved from the Empire State Building where it shared the 23rd floor with representatives of the wholesale hosiery trade. Now it occupies a lovely wooded campus not far from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and has one of the finest learning centers of any profession, Heart House.
  • The College offers one of the largest annual scientific meetings of the health professions. This last year the attendance was 19,256.
  • Twenty-seven years of successful international circuit courses have taken the College to 49 countries where it has been involved in 63 courses.
  • A formal convocation expresses the finest of professional collegiality and is backed up by state governorships, the beginning of state chapters throughout North America and regional involvement of the physician in practice. The membership of the College currently stands at over 17,000.
  • The College is the owner of its own scientific journal, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which has a circulation of more than 23,000. In readership studies, the Journal is the best read cardiovascular journal published.
  • The College is the producer of its own professional education audiotape, ACCEL, with a circulation of over 6,000.
  • The College is coproducer of the television program “Cardiology Update,” which is shown weekly on the Lifetime Medical Television cable network.
  • The continuing education courses of the College numbered 65 last year with an enrollment of 8,722 exclusive of the Annual Meeting.
  • The College has the recognized authoritative role at the national government level as the spokesperson for the practicing cardiovascular specialist and as a trusted source of congressional testimony on behalf of the profession.
  • The College is a coequal in the international world of cardiology, cohosting the Joint European-American Cardiology Meeting in London with the European Society of Cardiology and the British Cardiac Society.

The College has carried through on its mission of becoming the recognized vehicle for continuing education and now has a worldwide role in cardiovascular education. The extra dividend to report is that all of this has been done without acquiring a debt, with all property paid for, without deviating from the original pledge that this would not be a fund-raising organization and with a small but substantial endowment.

Why celebrate?

How can one not savor this anniversary? The American College of Cardiology is the practicing physician’s college, the medical continuing education model for the world. This essay would not be appropriate or complete if the names of some of those essential movers during the critical years were not highlighted. From my own perspective, a very close perspective for many years, the College’s hall of honor must include Simon Dack, Eliot Corday, George Griffith, Dwight Harken, William Likoff, Bill Martz—and, of course, Bill Nelligan. Hundreds of others have contributed greatly and are valuable, but these were the essential cast at a risk-taking point in the life of the College. Those that now lead the College have their opportunity for growth and enhancement. They too will have their reasons for celebration at other anniversaries and will add more reasons to the list of Why Celebrate?

Originally published in the January, 1989 edition of JACC.

Dimond E. Why celebrate?. J Am Coll Cardiol. 1989;13(1):3-4.

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