Hail to the Chief: Dr. Carlos Esquivel
International Pediatric Transplant Association
March 18, 2021
This article is part of a series of interviews with Stanford Surgery faculty who were, are, or will be presidents of surgical societies. Dr. Carlos Esquivel is chief of the Division of Abdominal Transplantation and president-elect of the International Pediatric Transplant Association.
Rachel Baker: How did you become president? And what are your duties
Carlos Esquivel: You have to pay your dues: you have to serve on committees and the council. There is a nomination process where they whittle it down to three people. And then there is a popular election. The slate of nominees alternates regions.
I was president elect for two years and then I assume the presidency at the end of March. There’s six years of service; it’s almost like being a dictator. ::laughing:: The regions are: Europe, The Americas, Asia & Oceania & Africa
Just like many other big societies, we try to use peoples’ strengths. Everyone has a day job, so, we rely on the good will of the leaders among the membership. The Association has about 10 committees, very active committees I might add. The Association has staff to help with administration, public relations, strategic planning, etc. My duties will be to oversee the financial health of the organization, strategic planning for growth, promoting diversity in terms of specialty, geographic representation, gender, et cetera.
RB: How do you juggle being president of an organization and being a Division Chief/surgeon/researcher/father? Do you sleep?
CE: I have trouble sleeping, but that’s because I’m a transplant surgeon. The boys are grown. You make certain choices in life. I’m not too crazy about TV. If I’m watching TV, I’m watching sports like baseball – it lasts three hours and you can be typing, writing a paper and then look up and there’s the game still going.
It’s difficult to keep that balance. You make priorities. I think I manage the time pretty effectively but probably everyone in my family will say I work too much and too hard and weekends and holidays, but I also take time to be with the family. We like cycling and being outdoors. I go out there and play golf with my boys.
RB: You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who is president of an international organization. How is it similar or different from other societies?
CE: The structure of the society is the same: a president, a president-elect, a past-president, secretary, treasurer, council. What is different is that in this particular society there are about 600 members or so, and they represent more than 40 countries. There is nothing more diverse than the world itself. Half of the membership is in North America and about 25% Europe and then rest is 5% Asia 5% Oceania 5% Latin America etc.
What is also unique about this society is that most societies are specialty driven, almost unidimensional– vascular surgery or colorectal surgery for example. Transplant is multidisciplinary. We have nephrologists, basic scientists, hepatologist, infectious disease experts, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. It’s truly diverse. It is the way we practice medicine. We don’t practice medicine in isolation. We consistently interact with specialists, especially when you take care of kids.
RB: How do you overcome the language barrier and time differences?
CE: We find a time that is suitable for 90% of the folks. Usually, we have the meetings at 11 PST so for the Europeans it’s 9 hours ahead. It works – we make it work. English is the language of the society, but the funny thing is that everyone has an accent. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, even if they’re primary language is English. It used to be tough at the beginning. The technology at the time wasn’t that great, but the silver lining of the pandemic is that the technology has improved so much. It works amazingly well.
We have a big congress every other year instead of every year. It’s been in Vancouver, Paris, and Warsaw among others. We alternate the annual meeting with a symposium for young people, new faculty and fellows. A couple years ago we had the symposium in Costa Rica. It’s nice because you attract people from all over the world. I learned a lot; if you’re with surgeons all of the time, you see things only one way. When you have people from different backgrounds and knowledge base you learn something new every single time you are with them.
RB: Do you specifically recruit members from different countries?
CE: Yes, we try to recruit members from countries where they need us the most. The society’s mission is primarily about education and sharing knowledge. I think that in the last decade countries were so remote and isolated, but now everyone has a smart phone. I think we are going to reach every single corner of the world – that is one of my goals as a president.
RB: That’s great! What else do you hope to accomplish during your term?
CE: I’m pushing the society to be active on the social networks with the goal of bringing educational activities to mid- and low-income countries.
Transplant is a surgical specialty, so my goals are to promote organ donation awareness, using technology to interact with folks all over the world, and use the Association as a ‘showcase’ for transplant surgeons as well. I am a surgeon after all!!
RB: You’re definitely leading by example! What advice do you have for people who want to be a leader in the field of surgery?
CE: To be a good leader is a combination of three factors: be creative one third of time, work very hard one third of the time, and be lucky one third of the time!!
A leader has to make decisions and sometimes those decisions may not be popular. The leader builds up the team, advocate for the team, be a good listener, and have good negotiation skills. When you put all of those elements together, I think you get good results – not always, but most of the time!