Andrew Burd on the World Association of Plastic Surgeons of Chinese Descent

Andrew BurdI have just returned from a fascinating meeting in Taiwan.  This was the second world congress for plastic surgeons of chinese descent which is a biannual meeting of the World Association of Plastic Surgeons of Chinese Descent (WAPSCD).  The first world congress was held in Beijing in 2008 following the Olympic games and has been described in an elegant editorial written by Lee L. Q. Pu and Fu-Chan Wei in the Journal of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery (JPRAS) (JPRAS 2009;62:427-432).  This second congress was held at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital which is known world wide as the “mecca” of microsurgery.The meeting began with a keynote lecture from Professor David Chiu from the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at New York University.  He described the “valiant journey” of Chinese people to assimilate into American society noting that in 1882 the Chinese exclusion act passed by Congress declared that the Chinese were “inferior and incapable of progressive intellectual development,” and were, “different in language, opinion, colour, and conformation.”  There is nothing like such stigma to motivate a “people” to aspire to acceptance and indeed recognition of excellence.

As Professor Chiu observed, Professor Andrew Lee has now been appointed as the Chief of Plastic Surgery at the John Hopkins University, one of the finest American Universities on the East Coast, whilst another Chinese plastic surgeon, Professor James Chang is the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Stanford University, the top West Coast institution. And there are increasing numbers of plastic surgeons of Chinese descent in America who are on the fast track to such prestigious positions.

Both Andrew and James were at the meeting and are delightful people.  Driven yes, but not demonstrating the anachronistic Sir Lancelot Spratt arrogance that unfortunately lingers on in some (non-chinese) Professors of plastic surgery in other parts of the world.

There were notable scientific contributions from leading plastic surgeons in mainland China and Taiwan including Yiling Cao, Fu-chan Wei, Chih-hung Lin, David Chuang, Hung-chi Chen, Wei Liu, Sin-daw Lin, Guo Shuzhong, and Chung-sheng Lai.

I was the only non-Chinese person in the international faculty and gave a talk entitled: “The journals: ranking, reputation, ethics, and editors.” This is a field where I do have particular insights into what is good and what is bad in the world of medical publishing.

Whilst the clinical and scientific aspects of the meeting were a rich treasure trove of ideas, innovation, and evidence based practice, the social networking provided opportunities to enrich and enliven ones appreciation of the wonderful diversity of thinking and attitudes of those drawn to the prince of surgical specialties (i.e. Plastic Surgery).  Professor Jack Yu from Georgia presented his scientific work on high frequency low amplitude vibratory stimulation of cells which is a little esoteric, but sitting next to him at dinner I discovered a mind overflowing with observations on life which created a contagious excitement.  Just as an example Jack regaled the fascinating story of Alan Turing, the genius who played a major role in breaking the Enigma code in the second world war. But of even greater relevance to science was Turing’s interest in mathematical biology and his work on the chemical basis of morphogenesis. And yes I did rush off afterwards to google the “Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction.”

What was notable and a little disappointing for me was the complete lack of PSCD from the UK.  I wonder how much this is due to the history of the Chinese migrations with many of the UKPSCD being Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong.  The influence of colonialism and superpower politics on the development of medicine is a fascinating area for research. The Mandarin speaking Taiwanese tended to go to the USA. But for now I am back in Hong Kong, looking forward to the 3rd World Congress of WAPSCD to be held in Xian in 2012. For the UKPSCD, mark it in your diaries now and take the opportunity to visit a city of great culture and participate in what I am confident will be an inspirational meeting

And for those who experience a frisson of anxiety at a global association linked to a racial/culturally defined group?  Look on the positive side.  The WAPSCD is not exclusive but reflects a mutual recognition of the state of maturation of the specialty of plastic surgery.  Long may this association prosper and let us hope they keep to the simple term “plastic surgery.” I realise that there have been well meant but ultimately futile attempts to redefine who we are and what we do by adding terms such as reconstructive, or aesthetic. I think these represent a rather unnecessary reaction to an “adolescent” identity crisis.

I also wonder whether the members of WAPSCD should consider a slight alteration to their name that would stimulate, hopefully, the positive benefits of some healthy competition. Instead of WAPSCD, what about WAPSCA ~ the World Association of Plastic Surgeons of Chinese Ascent?!

Andrew Burd is professor of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His major clinical interests involve paediatric burns care and the role of plastic surgery in the palliation of advanced malignancy. Academic interests include pragmatic ethics related to the practice of medicine including research and publication.