The Puerto Rico Chapter of the American College of Surgeons has been a very active and vibrant chapter since its beginnings. It has succeeded in bringing forward the mission of its membership and of the American College of Surgeons throughout all these years.

The chapter was founded in 1950 when a group of surgeons trained abroad, led by Dr. Peter Sabatelle (Orthopedic Surgeon), decided to join their forces under ACS guidance to further the practice and education of medicine and surgery in Puerto Rico. They founded the Puerto Rico Chapter of the ACS in 1950. This same group of Surgeons was the one who founded the University of Puerto Rico Medical School.

The Chapter’s first president was Dr. Luis A. Sanjurjo  (1951-1952) who was followed by an impressive list of surgeons that have been important in surgical practice and education in Puerto Rico throughout their careers.  Dr. Luis F.  Sala received the ACS Distinguished Service Award in 1989. Dr. Sala had served as president of the ACS PR Chapter form 1978 to 1979 and had also served as secretary to the board of Governors of the ACS. Many of the Chapter’s members have also been active faculty in the training of surgical residents in Puerto Rico to the present.

The chapter has been very active in socioeconomic issues throughout the years. One of its most important accomplishments was to push forward the mandatory seatbelt law. This law was approved in 1975 in PR. Making it the first locality to approve it in USA or its territories. The Chapter was active in other issues, like campaigning to increase alcohol and cigarette taxes, but failed to obtain the allocation of the gained revenue to the trauma patient care in the island.

Initially the ACS PRC had monthly meetings in which several interesting surgical topics were discussed over a great dinner and residents were always welcomed.  In its beginnings, it hosted four major events during the year for educational and social purpose. These events included a one week long annual convention early in the month of February, a three day long weekend summer meeting in August, the Puerto Rico Night Party during the national ACS meeting in October and the Christmas dinner dance in December.  These events were mainly organized by the surgeon’s spouses. Due to the present challenging times, these events have been reduced to one three day long annual convention meeting in February and several council and ordinary meetings of the Chapter during the year that are coordinated by the council and administrator.

In 1961, one of our guests, Dr. Scott Netrauer, established the Presidents plaque and the Presidential Breakfast. For many years the presidential Breakfast paid homage to Dr. Netrauer and bore his name.

The annual F. L. Raffucci Memorial Lecture and Surgical Research Forum was included as part of the ACS PRC annual convention in 1972. This forum was established to honor the memory of Dr. Francisco L. Raffucci Arce as pioneer surgical educator and researcher in Puerto Rico. The forum provides a venue for presentation of original surgical research by young surgical investigators, giving opportunity to residents and medical students as well.

The ACS PR Chapter was incorporated as a non-profit organization on September 6, 1979.

Our yearly annual convention has been honored with the participation of many internationally renowned surgeons like Dr. Dwight C. McGoon, Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, Dr. Denton Cooley, Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, Dr. Walter Dean Warren, Dr. McVay,  Dr. Remine… just to name a few. In addition we have been honored to have as guests many ACS presidents and ACS officials throughout the life of the Chapter like Dr. Newell W. Philpott (1960), Dr. Charles McLaughlin (1975), Dr. Patricia J. Numann (2012), Dr. A. Brent Eastman (2013), Dr. L.D. Britt (2013) and Dr. Patricia L. Turner (2014).

The ACS PRC chapter currently counts with 388 members of multiple surgical specialties: 277 Fellows, 10 Associate Fellows, 46 Residents and 55 Medical Students. About 14% of the total membership is female. The Women Surgeon Lunch was an initiative started by the second female president of the chapter, Dr. Yvonne Baerga Varela, in the 2014 64th Annual Convention to foster female membership, networking and mentorship.

The Puerto Rico Chapter of the American College of Surgeons is one to be proud off for its history, its service and its influence in surgical practice and education in Puerto Rico. 

By Yvonne Baerga Varela MD FACS
ACS PRC President 2013-2014
February 15, 2014

In Memorial: Nathan Rifkinson, MD FACS

Dr. Nathan Rifkinson died on March 21, 2010 after a very long productive life in Medicine. He was 97. He graduated from Emory University Medical School and interned in New York. He began his medical career as a general practitioner in Greenwich Village in New York City. One day, while rounding at a school for German World War II refugee children, he overheard doctors speaking of the need for physicians in the new US Virgin Islands. The next day he canceled his office appointments and went to Washington, D.C., to see the Secretary of the Interior who introduced Dr. Rifkinson to the then governor of the USVI’s, Lawrence Cramer. Subsequently, Dr. Rifkinson became an appointee of the Federal Government to The United States Virgin Islands where he worked as the health commissioner for three years. Living on St. John Dr. Rifkinson was at once a general practitioner, a public health official, a researcher, and a pathologist. He sent many specimens to the pathologist Dr. Enrrique Koppish at the School of Tropical Medicine in San Juan. He eventually decided to pursue a career in pathology. In 1942 he moved to Puerto Rico where he worked as a pathologist under Dr. Enrique Koppish at the School of Tropical Medicine and the Bayamon District Hospital. During his tenure as a pathologist the many brain tumors, abscesses, penetrating brain injuries and other pathologies that plagued the population intrigued him. He considered a fellowship in neuropathology in the United States. It was Dr. Antonio Acosta Velarde, then in charge of all the District Hospitals in Puerto Rico, who encouraged Dr. Rifkinson to pursue neurosurgery. He was accepted at the Washington University neurosurgery residency training program in St. Louis, Missouri, under Dr. Ernest Sachs. At the time, this was one of the most prestigious residency programs in neurosurgery in North America. Dr. Sachs had trained under Dr. Harvey Cushing, and would be one to train many who eventually became Chiefs, Chairmen, and Program Directors throughout the world. Initially offered a scholarship by the Island government, the direct interference of then governor Dr. Rexford Tugwell proved necessary to make the residency in neurosurgery a reality. However, this financial support was suddenly withdrawn at the end of his second year of residency, forcing Dr. Rifkinson and his wife to barely make ends meet for the remainder of his training. Despite the let down by a politically motivated local government, Dr. Rifkinson returned to his adopted land and spent the next six decades dedicated to the people of Puerto Rico. For several years he was the only residency trained neurosurgeon in Puerto Rico and the USVIs. He began working in the academic field in the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine at its inception where he eventually became the Director of the Neurosurgery Section, a position that he held until 2002. He retired from surgery at 86 years of age. From the moment he became the Neurosurgery Program Director he strived to teach science and moral values to his students. He encouraged initiative in research. He actively engaged in teaching the art of surgery to everyone around him. He actively participated in the teaching and training of medical students, interns, and residents of all specialties. He was a common denominator to all of the medical graduates, residents and fellows of the Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus. He trained every resident that graduated from the fully accredited Neurosurgery Residency until the moment came for him to step down and allow the younger generation to take over the helm of the neurosurgery ship he so wisely sailed for almost half a century. Dr. Rifkinson never really retired from the “Service”, as he called the Section of Neurosurgery. Up until the time a stroke weakened him in 2008 he would still hold a weekly clinic, visit the wards, counsel the residents, and encourage the younger attendings. He always had an opinion and theory on anything and everything having to do with his beloved “Service”. Dr. Nathan Rifkinson never passed away: He lives in the everyday lives of his many trainees and students who in more than one way are everyday silently living credit to his teachings. Dr. Santos Dr. Inserni 03/28/2010