American Venous Forum Fellows Course

By: Kathleen Gibson, MD - Fellows Course Chair

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” This quotation has been variously attributed to Benjamin Franklin or Confucius, but is most likely came from Xun Kuang (a Confucian philosopher, circa 300 AD). No matter the source, most residency and fellowship programs in the United States have based their training programs on this approach. While vascular fellowship programs historically have done a good job of preparing their fellows to be excellent open and (more recently) endovascular arterial surgeons, training in the treatment of venous disorders has lagged behind. Traditionally, specialty societies have primarily supported educational programs for its members in active practice, leaving the education of its future generation of members to formal fellowship programs. The American Venous Forum Fellows’ course is a unique program tailored to the venous education of physicians in training. It employs the philosophy that interactive teaching in a small, casual setting is the best way to engage learners, to help them retain what they have learned, and to foster enthusiasm for the treatment of venous disease.

Drs. Steve Elias, Thomas O’Donnell, and William Marston started the Fellows’ course in 2007, in Englewood, New Jersey. These original course co-directors started the program in response to a survey of current vascular fellows in training that only 15% of U.S. programs had a “venous champion” that they learned from. The mentorship that is so vitally important in teaching doctors in training was missing in the teaching of diagnosis and treatment of venous disease. The course founders’ goal was to help fill this vital gap in the education of vascular trainees. The faculty of the first courses came primarily from members of both the American Venous Forum and the Society of Interventional Radiology. It began with the support of four industry partners: VNUS, Angiodynamics, Smith and Nephew and U.S. Surgical. The course remained an independent, industry-sponsored event until 2011, when the administration of the course was turned over to the AVF. While the course has expanded to a semi-annual (Spring and Fall) event, it has stayed true to its original format of informal and interactive exchanges, live cases, and hands-on training. 

Although the basic format of the Fellow’s course remains unchanged, it has evolved and changed over time as the treatment of, and interest in, venous disease has undergone rapid evolution. Course content is being continuously reviewed and updated by the AVF Fellow’s course committee membership to keep the educational material relevant and contemporary. Industry partnership has expanded, and along with didactic and interactive sessions with faculty, the fellows have small group (4-5 fellows) interactions with industry, where they have the opportunity for “hands-on” exposure to the most current technological advances in venous disease. Live cases with duplex ultrasound are part of every course, and there is a heavy emphasis on teaching through interactive case studies. The course spans two and a half days, and includes social events two of the evenings. The social events are an important part of the course.  At these events, the fellows have a chance to talk in a casual atmosphere with the faculty; some of whom represent leaders in the field of venous disease. This interaction can help to establish mentorship for these budding vein doctors, help them meet and network with peers from around the country, and interest them in the benefits of a continued membership in the AVF.

As the course has evolved, so has the makeup of the attendees. Initially, nearly all of the course attendants came from vascular surgery training programs. As interest in the treatment of venous disease has grown, so has the diversity of fellows: there is now nearly equal representation of fellows from interventional radiology and Interventional cardiology programs. The most recent course also had attendees from the disciplines of vascular medicine, dermatology, and family practice. This diversity has enhanced the value of interactions at the course, as the fellows and faculty can discuss a variety of different approaches to problems seen across disciplines, and fosters collegiality among different specialty groups.

Partnership with industry remains an important part of the Fellow’s course. Not only do our industry partners supply financial backing for the course, they play an important role in exposing the Fellows to devices and therapies for the treatment of venous disease that they may not have otherwise seen before going out into practice. Most of our industry partners have found the course to be of great value to their representatives as well, and the level of returning sponsorship has been high.

Getting to the “nuts and bolts” of the AVF Fellow’s course, the two and a half day course is open to any U.S. fellow interested in the treatment of venous disease. Travel, lodging, and course costs are covered by a grant program administered by the AVF. A small number of spots are made available for International trainees, although they are responsible for their own travel expenses. A complimentary Resident Physician membership in the AVF is included for the attendees of the course.  The course is held twice a year: a Spring course in April or May and a Fall course in early December. The Spring course is held at the original course site in Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey (hosted by Dr. Elias), and the Fall course rotates among sites, typically in the Western U.S. This Fall’s course will be held at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, Texas (hosted by Dr. Sheila Coogan). Next year’s courses are slated to be held in Englewood, New Jersey and Seattle, Washington.

Interest in the AVF Fellow’s course remains strong, and the quality and enthusiasm of the Faculty are highly rated by the attendees in post-course evaluations. Fellows find out about the course through their program directors, through advertisements at other meetings, and from you-our AVF members. More information about the Fellows course can be found on the AVF’s website (http://www.veinforum.org/medical-and-allied-health-professionals/education/fellows-course-in-venous-disease) The goals of the course--to provide venous education, strong mentorship and support to physicians in training--are in sync with the AVF’s dedication to improving the care of our patients with venous and lymphatic disease.

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