Catherine Foss, ISAPS

Rob Spalding meets Catherine Foss, an executive director who has been with the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery for 20 years and is happy to do another twenty.

Hands firmly on the reins

RS:   It’s twenty years ago now, but can you remember any salient feature about getting the job of Executive Director at ISAPS?

CF:  It was the first time the organisation had even considered hiring someone full-time to manage day-to-day operations.  At that point, it had already been in existence for twenty-eight years.  I was asked to submit a proposal to a somewhat dubious board by two members who knew my work from other societies I was then managing. They felt that I could be an asset to ISAPS.  One of them even gave up the modest administrative fee so I could be hired – and paid.  It was then, and remains today, a true honour to have been entrusted with this responsibility.  Coming in as the first administrator meant that the board and I both grew into it together.

RS: What interests you most about life as an association executive?

CF: It changes constantly. The steady growth of this organisation over the past twenty years has been truly remarkable, not only in membership, and in our international reach, but in the types of programmes and publications we have developed – and in the ever-changing politics that keep us on our toes.

RS: Procedures in the world of plastic surgery must have changed dramatically over that period. Have the fortunes of ISAPS changed to match them?

CF: ISAPS is a growing, vibrant society.  There are always new procedures, new products, new relationships and new members to learn about.  Naturally, our expanding programmes change the scope of what we offer, so yes, I have seen a lot of change.

RS:  What would gives you the most sustained pleasure about the job you do?

CF:  No question, the people:  boards and committees, members in so many different countries, staff and consultants, vendors and patients. Keeping it all in working order and moving forward is a huge challenge – like driving a coach drawn by 12 horses.  I have many reins in my hands, and I can’t drop any of them.  While we are a professional, surgical society, the ultimate beneficiary of what we all do is the patient.  Our registered trademark is Aesthetic Education Worldwide® which corresponds to our primary mission of providing state-of-the-art education for our members and others, but this leads to safer surgery for patients – and that is the ultimate goal.

RS: Where do you call home? And what are your interests outside work?

CF:  I live in the beautiful mountains of New Hampshire, in the northeast corner of the US.  With all the travelling I do, I never tire of coming home to my house on the hill.  I cherish the peace and quiet here after very long days in the office, and this area of the country has always felt like where I belong.  I grew up outside New York City.  My family travelled a great deal when I was growing up, so that wanderlust was ingrained early. 

I have had many interests in the past including international competitive skiing, three-day eventing with my horses, and singing in a choral society, but most of these other interests necessarily dwindled as my work got more intense – and I got older.

RS:    Do you still travel a lot on behalf of ISAPS and do you enjoy it?

CF:  Yes, I do. It is a privilege to travel to many of our courses representing the Society. I find that enormously satisfying and exciting.  I have been very fortunate to build a career around so many of my own interests.

RS:How many members does ISAPS have? Where does it hold its annual meetings and how often does the president change?

CF: ISAPS was founded in 1970 so we are celebrating our 48th year.  We have grown from about 800 members when I joined the organisation, to over 3,700 in 104 countries today.  Plastic surgery is one of the smaller specialities in medicine and our growth has been consistent.  We hold a large Congress on a different continent every two years rotating North America, Europe, Asia and South America, most often in the country or region of the president who presides over it.  ISAPS also produces and endorses about 30 smaller meetings per year in countries around the world.  I have now worked with eleven presidents since I began and look forward to starting with the twelfth later this year. 

RS:    How many staff do you have?

CF: The ISAPS staff is very lean, with only five people in the Executive Office, including me.  Of course, there are many outside consultants who work with us on many levels, and an army of volunteers starting with the Board, plus our Committees and Course Directors, and our wonderful National Secretaries. These individuals are elected by the members in their country and function as our “agents” there, and as ambassadors promoting the society at their national meetings and in their region. 

RS:What challenges does ISAPS face in the future?

CF:  New initiatives to engage younger members, who are of course our future, new substantial member benefits on the horizon, and the energy generated by what we do every day is moving us forward.  Competition for members and from the ever-growing number of other meetings in our field is always an issue, but we have wonderful relationships with our sister societies, and our courses remain well attended.  We have a unique niche because in many countries what we provide in the courses we offer is not taught in traditional training programmes, so our outstanding global faculty is sought after and our courses are usually very well attended.

RS:Will you be happy to serve another 20 years with ISAPS?

CF:    Nothing would give me greater pleasure!      






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