Hail to the Chief: Dr. Sherry Wren

Pacific Coast Surgical Association

June 15, 2020

This article is part of a series of interviews with Stanford Surgery faculty who were, are, or will be presidents of surgical societies. Dr. Sherry Wren is Vice Chair of Diversity at Stanford Surgery and Chief of General Surgery at the Palo Alto VA. In addition to being the current President of the Pacific Coast Surgical Association, she was also President of the Halsted Society 2016- 2017, President of the San Francisco Surgical Society (SFSS) from 2013- 2014, and President of the Northern California Chapter of the American College of Surgeons 2008-2009.

Rachel Baker: What was your path to becoming President of the PCSA?

Sherry Wren: I went to my first PCSA meeting during my HPB fellowship in LA in ‘94. It was a very welcoming society socially and had really great scientific presentations and discussion. As a presenter you get a formal discussion of your paper by a regional expert as well as a publication in JAMA Surgery, the top ranked surgical journal. As a junior faculty member it was a great opportunity to interact with really prominent surgeons in the region and develop relationships across all of the west coast academic medical centers.

I officially joined in 1999, attended the meetings regularly and in 2009 was elected the regional Northern California Councilor—it was my first entry into leadership—and in 2016 I became the Secretary-Treasurer.

The presidency rotates yearly through each of the different regional caucuses. Each region nominates their choice for the presidency and then all the members vote. Being elected is a testament to your reputation as importantly relationships with everybody in your region.

RB: How is the PCSA different from other societies you’ve been part of?

SW: It’s one of the few societies where you have an opportunity to interact with people out of your subspecialty. We have members who represent every type of surgical subspecialty in general surgery, transplantation, vascular, and pediatrics. For example, on the 2021 annual meeting organizing committee we have Stanford vascular surgeon Dr. Jason Lee as well as Dr. Hirose, a pediatric surgeon from UC Davis, and Dr. Suh, an endocrine surgeon from UCSF.

This multi-institutional collaboration is unique to the Northern California caucus. I am thrilled that we have surgeons from all of our academic institutions as well as community practice and Kaiser docs all volunteering to work on the 2021 meeting to help make it a success. This cross regional collaborative effort is something that is uniquely Northern California, making it our region’s meeting not just a “Stanford" thing.

RB: You started your presidency at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has that impacted your term?

SW: It’s having a significant effect to the point where our leadership is now considering different options for our annual meeting: Do we have a meeting? Do we somehow change the meeting? We’re drawing up some different plans. Typically, the location is chosen by the president at the time. I was so excited when over a year ago I selected Monterey as the site for the meeting, it is such a beautiful place and you can imagine having an event in the aquarium would be magical.

RB: You were the first female president of The Halstead Society and are only the second woman to be president of the PCSA. Does that affect your work at all?

SW: I don’t think it affects my work, but I am proud to be the first all-woman President-Vice President team! As president you get to choose your vice president. Getting to pick Cindy [Kin] was a no brainer: she is super smart, takes responsibilities seriously, and we work together well. She also represents the future of our society.

Many surgical societies are trying to find how to engage and appeal to the younger generation of surgeons. Their demographic is very different than the senior members. They are both men and women surgeons, often with working spouses, and shared family responsibilities. Societies have adapt, offer meetings that work for our members. For example, we started providing free childcare during our Presidential dinners to allow members to be able to attend without conflicts. Social events have to appeal to all genders and embrace members who want to bring their children.

RB: You are a mentor, overseas volunteer, clinician, researcher, and educator. How do you find time for it all?

SW: I believe I am the luckiest person ever to have had so many opportunities to work in these areas. You find time for things you’re passionate about and all of these have brought me great joy. As a President I want to pass on the joys and satisfaction of academics, research, mentorship, and fellowship to the next generation. Surgical societies are a great vehicle for each of these areas. I have mentored other faculty and trainees from our own and other institutions, helped people get fellowships and jobs, forged research collaborations, and met an incredible group of surgeons and their families over the years. I have made lasting friendships from PCSA and other societies, people I can call on at any time.

It’s actually the talk I give in our PD Bootcamp: “How to take advantage of surgical societies.” At least for the time being, especially in academic surgery—but also outside academic surgery—these societies have relevance. These connections are important.