Voices for change: celebrating diversity within the AO

Héctor J Aguado: my AO journey

How the AO supported one surgeon in overcoming hardship
I am Héctor J Aguado. I have been involved in trauma and orthogeriatric units since the end of my training in 2004. If you were dealing with fractures, the AO was the place to be for learning, growing, sharing professional experiences, and—why not—teaching. Back then, AO was an elite club and becoming a member was “difficult” if you didn´t have the appropriate contacts. That´s why I joined the AO Alumni Association, which in time became AO Trauma.

This is my “AO story”, similar to many of my peers. Becoming an AO member allowed my knowledge and network to grow. I had the chance to meet surgeons from other trauma units in Spain at meetings where complex cases—like the ones we all have—were presented. At a certain moment, I unexpectedly was invited to join a principles course as a table instructor: Wow, I was going to start teaching! At that moment I was working at a small hospital and all chairpersons and faculty worked in major trauma centers.

Time went by, and after I had been a table instructor at a couple more courses, I was offered the chance to cochair a principles course. I figured that my networking and surgical skills were appreciated. But in fact, I was told: the chairperson is the one to organize, and you observe. The problem was that nothing happened: The chairperson didn’t organize a thing and didn’t answer e-mails. At the very last minute, I was prompted to carry on with the organization as we were running out of time and, contrary to my hopes, the course chairperson was not appreciative of my efforts. Teaching was limited to a selected group of surgeons. New ideas and new faces were not always welcome. The course result was okay, but my feeling was that too many feet had been stepped on.

To compensate for the effort and energy I put into that course, I could chair another principles course two years later, based on a proposal I made and which the AO Trauma country chapter accepted. That was the big opportunity to bring onto scene some of the surgeons I knew from the AO Alumni Association, surgeons who until then had remained in the shadows of AO Trauma. And this is also part of the AO spirit: generosity. But it is not only generosity. It is also turning my privilege into responsibility: Ever since then, I have encouraged promoting new surgeons to join the group of faculty.

In the meantime, in my search for professional growth, I moved to a bigger hospital. It turned out to be a completely hard learning experience: The boss and the ambience amongst peers was bullying/against studying, researching, caring for patients, and teaching—exactly the opposite of what a “good health professional” should be. That was a complete disaster! My boss tried to put a stop to my faculty development by not allowing me to attend to AO courses as faculty or participant. Family and support and feedback from AO friends helped me overcome that dark professional time and gave me the confidence to start in a bigger hospital and fight for excellence. Now I am an associate professor, a leader in my trauma unit, and responsible for the research unit, and I am one of six AO Trauma members on the team.

Participating in AO Trauma courses as a faculty has given me the opportunity to meet surgeons from all around the world: great professionals and great people, many of whom I now can call friends. Some courses have been last-minute invitations due to a faculty short-notice cancellation; nevertheless, I grabbed the opportunity to increase my professional and personal network. Argentina, Turkey, Palestine, England have been some of the destinations: Learning from different cultures and sharing ways of working makes anyone a better surgeon and person.

Creating opportunities for younger surgeons and surgeons from more diverse backgrounds to join, benefit from, and contribute to the AO has always been my passion. When the open call to join AO Access arose, I self-nominated. Now, I have the chance to make the AO more diverse and inclusive, bringing the same opportunities I had to fight for to all AO members: No matter the experience, gender, ethnicity, or where the surgeon comes from, all of us should have the same transparent and equitable opportunities to participate and be involved if we have the skills. AO members are a big family and a group of friends focused on trauma. We should help each other to grow and become better surgeons and health care professionals, the same way I was supported in the bad times.