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A Time for Thanksgiving: My Year as ATS President

My year as ATS President was marked by a once-in-a-century pandemic that impacted our lives and caused millions of deaths worldwide. As this unfolded, we were further distressed by governmental disregard for public health interventions, the pandemic’s heavy toll on minorities, and vivid reminders of the scourge of racism. Amid daily reminders of our shortcomings and frailty, I often remembered Mr. Rogers’ words: “When I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”As ATS President, finding the helpers was rather easy.

Over the last year, our members cared for those afflicted by COVID-19 with courageous selflessness, often while facing health risks and grieving for the victims. Moreover, our members and the broad scientific communityatsnews-juanceledon1.jpg prevented further suffering by helping develop vaccines, designing and volunteering in vaccination campaigns, and caring for those with COVID-19 sequelae. As a society, we helped address last year’s challenges through advocacy and efforts to advance research and careers, clinical care, and public health while evolving the organization.

As the pandemic evolved, the ATS’s many activities included developing a COVID-19 resource center and providing frequent updates, funding new research grants on COVID-19, developing a Vaccine Working Group and a Vaccine Resource Center, and conducting multilevel advocacy for public health measures and vaccination equity. In parallel, the ATS addressed health inequities and racism through collaborative efforts to fund new research grants on health disparities and create an educational website targeting communities most affected by COVID-19,  condemning racism in several statements (including those following George Floyd’s tragic death and attacks on Asian Americans), calling for a moratorium on tear gas use by police during peaceful protests, featuring minorities in our “Patient Voices” publication with the ATS Public Advisory Roundtable, and publishing a special collection on combatting racism in health professionals’ education in the ATS Scholar.   

This past year, we also strengthened our global footprint after completion of a Task Force on International Activities, expanding relationships with peer societies and increasing our international membership by 11 percent, starting a collaboration with The Union to develop a webinar series on tuberculosis elimination, and continuing our successful Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical, and Operations Research (MECOR) Program to train physicians and build research capacity in under-resourced areas.

To help ensure that the next generation is always the best, we continued to offer programs for our early-career members (e.g., the Fellows Track Symposium and the New Faculty Boot Camp), while our Assemblies accepted applications for a new Apprenticeship Program in 2021.

We also prepared the ATS for the future through launching a Task Force on Designing Future ATS Conferences and ongoing efforts on diversity, inclusion, and representation. Moreover, continued expansion of our regional chapters will allow the ATS to further engage with our members where they reside and practice.

As the first Latinx individual to have the honor to serve as ATS president, I hope to inspire other minority members to aspire to lead our society. As my period as ATS president ends, I am proud of the society’s considerable accomplishments in a most challenging year, all resulting from the work and sacrifices of many. Indeed, I am deeply grateful to my wonderful colleagues in the EC for our collegial and cohesive teamwork on behalf of the ATS; to the leaders in our BOD and Committees; to our talented and committed staff; and -above all- to our amazing members, the “helpers” whose heroic actions during the last year will never cease to inspire me.

I invite you all to join me at ATS 2021 later this month!

This article has been updated and adapted for ATS News. Please read the full version of last year’s ATS activities in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.