President’s Message

“2020” will be spoken of in the future and our hearts and minds will swell with memories of tragedy, disruption, worry, sacrifice, challenges and the warmth of human kindness that only the likes of a global pandemic can bring with such intensity. 

We can be proud of how Australia has led the world in containing the virus.  As spine surgeons, we only had a small part to play but I believe that the Spine Society of Australia has shown that we are a modern agile organisation that can be responsive in times of need.  When called upon to address our elective lists, the Committee responded and worked with our peers to produce the Spine Society of Australia’s COVID-19 Position Statement on Category 1 and urgent Category 2 elective surgery.  This ensured that our members, and the hospitals they partner with, had the guidance they needed to manage surgeon and patient expectations. 

The cancellation of SpineWeek 2020 and our annual scientific meeting in Melbourne, while disappointing, is of little import when viewed through the broader lens.  For myself, my presidential address to our membership and honoured international guests was reduced to a newsletter – I think my pride can weather this relegation to the sideline. 

Spine surgeons have had their resilience tested by more than just a pandemic.  I am hard pressed to remember a time when the practice of spine surgery was not under attack by government, the private health industry, speculative lawyers, and certain groups/academics with turf to protect and self-aggrandising agendas to press.  These challenges are not about to go away and we need to meet them head on over the next few years.  Our ability to handle these challenges is and will be a measure of our character.  But we will also need to reflect on our past performance with a critical eye and be prepared to adapt and make changes to the practice of our profession when appropriate.  Our recent success with the overhaul of the MBS spinal items is testament to our ability to do this.

When negative distractions become too loud, I often need to step back and reflect on myself as a person and the profession I chose.  I can get up and face the daily challenges of the modern surgeon because I know I can make a difference to the lives of my patients (more often simply through sound advice) and, in doing so, I can advance the course of my craft day in, day out.

After I completed my orthopaedic training, I dreamed of a career as a spine surgeon. I was fortunate to have my spine fellowship in Oxford under the supervision of Jeremy Fairbank and James Wilson- Macdonald.  I have visited many surgeons and institutions around the world and have many mentors who have been generous in the exchange of ideas and knowledge.  When I joined the Spine Society of Australia, I knew I had found my home where I could share my enthusiasm for my chosen field and enjoy robust debate with those who may not exactly see the world of spine my way!  And it took quite a few years of Bruce McPhee, then the scientific secretary, soundly rejecting my poor attempts at an abstract before I got my first ASM paper presented. 

Only when I joined the Spine Society of Australia executive as secretary, did I realise how much work is performed by the executive and can attest to how much we have all benefited from their efforts. I would like to thank all previous and current office bearers for providing leadership and guidance to our members and for the successful conduct of our annual scientific meetings. Special thanks to Brian Freeman for his expertise in ensuring that quality scientific material is presented. Thanks and congratulations to Michael Johnson for his tireless work and stewardship of the Spine Society of Australia the past two years.

I am proud to be a spine surgeon. I am proud of the fact that the Spine Society of Australia is an educational society dedicated to the exchange of ideas and dissemination of scientific and clinical knowledge about spinal disease and disorders. Its aims are to advance and encourage research and advance evidence-based medicine.  While our membership is predominantly surgeon based, I am proud that we attract members from a wide variety of disciplines including researchers, physiotherapists, scientists, radiologists, physicians, biomechanical engineers etc.  I look forward to continuing to grow our membership and its diversity. 

As to the future of the Spine Society of Australia, it must be grounded in true evidence based medicine as envisaged by David Sackett:

Evidence-based medicine is the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of the current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. The practice of evidence-based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research. [1]

We will continue to look to the future of our craft, by mentoring our younger surgeons, developing the spine surgery registry, and by ensuring we have a seat at the table when decisions are made about how we practice our profession.  And we will remember the privilege and responsibility we have as a society, to be a voice for those Australians suffering from spine disease and related disorders, to ensure they continue to receive the health services they need.

I offer my service to the society and welcome our members to contact me freely regarding our society, our profession and their ideas or concerns. 

I am honoured to be the president of the Spine Society of Australia for 2020/2021.

Yours sincerely

Matthew Scott-Young
Spine Society of Australia

[1] Sackett, D, Evidence-Based Medicine, Spine, 1998 23(10) pp1085-1086