Opening Ceremony Blends ATS Highlights and Humor


ATS President Thomas Ferkol discusses Society highlights during the Opening Ceremony Saturday.

The ATS 2015 International Conference opened with a mix of highlights of the Society’s programs and standup comedy Saturday evening as ATS leaders reviewed milestones and recognized a variety of accomplishments before The Daily Show Senior Correspondent Aasif Mandvi offered his punchy take on science, politics, and race.

ATS President Thomas Ferkol, MD, welcomed attendees to Denver and noted the importance of Colorado in ATS history.

“As many, but perhaps not all, of you know, the Society began in 1905 as the American Sanatorium Society, which was established to promote the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis,” Dr. Ferkol said. “Around that time, thousands of people with tuberculosis were moving to Colorado, believing the clean air was an effective treatment strategy.”

As the ATS celebrates its 110th anniversary, the Society has become an international organization focusing on patient care and research in adult and pediatric pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, Dr. Ferkol said. This year’s conference reflects that growth with the introduction of the ATS Discoveries Series, a collection of lectures from leading scientists and clinicians about scientific and clinical breakthroughs.

The work of several ATS members and groups was recognized during the session. Dr. Ferkol discussed the creation of the ATS Academy to support early career professionals, as well as the first class of ATS Scholars and ATS Educators. He also praised the development of the ATS Section on Medical Education that supports the development of teaching skills to all members of the society. And he acknowledged the development of the ATS Fellowship in Health Equality and this year’s Health Equality Award winners, Juan C. Celedón, MD, MPH, DrPH, and Alysa Ellis, MD.

Dr. Ferkol also praised the ATS Foundation, which has awarded $11 million in grants to 183 investigators in the 10 years since the launch of the Foundation Research Program.

“With the help of this seed money, these investigators have gone on to win a total of $143 million in major grants, and many have published original research in high-impact journals, become principal investigators, and mentored junior faculty,” Dr. Ferkol said.

On global health, Dr. Ferkol noted that the ATS’s 15,000 members hail from 122 countries, and the Society maintains relationships with sister societies around the world and is a founding member of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies, a collaborative to promote lung health. He also nodded to the Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical and Operations Research (MECOR) program, which strengthens capacity related to respiratory conditions, critical care, and sleep medicine in middle and low income countries. Afterwards, ATS President-Elect Atul Malhotra, MD, was invited to describe the Global Scholars Program, a new distance-learning initiative to better improve medical education worldwide.

Lastly, Dr. Ferkol discussed the importance of advocacy on legislative and regulatory issues important to the organization, acknowledging the staff in Washington, DC. He also noted the importance of advocacy journalism, which provided a segue to introducing Mr. Mandvi, satirical humorist and senior correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

He joked about interviews he has done for the show and showed videos of several of his favorite segments. When technical difficulties stopped the first video, Mr. Mandvi drew loud laughs by looking at the audio-visual crew and saying, “People keep pointing at people … just like doctors. ‘Hey, I’m just a pulmonary guy … he’s the heart guy.’”