Early Academy History
In 1896, Dr. Hal Foster – an otolaryngologist in Kansas City, Missouri – called the first meeting of what would later become the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. He sent out more than 500 invitations to ophthalmologists and otolaryngologists practicing in the southern and western states with the hope of creating a medical society in the region. A small number of doctors responded to Dr. Foster’s call and helped to form the Western Ophthalmological, Otological, Laryngological and Rhinological Association. During the first few years that the new association met, the foundations for the organization were laid. Officers were elected, a constitution and bylaws were written, and committees were instituted. In 1898, the association became known as the Western Ophthalmologic and Oto-Laryngologic Association. By 1901, however, the group realized that its members were drawn from all over the country, not just the west. So in 1903, the organization became the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Oto-Laryngology. By then, the membership had reached 185. Just four years later, at 434 members, the Academy was the largest specialty society in the United States.
Early in its history, the Academy took upon itself the task of improving graduate education. In 1913, the Academy organized two committees to develop plans for standardizing graduate training in ophthalmology and otolaryngology. Working with similar committees in sister societies, these committees led to the creation of the first specialty boards – ophthalmology in 1913 and otolaryngology in 1924. These boards set standards for medical specialty education. Those who wished to practice either specialty had to pass the appropriate board examinations.
The Academy further instituted the Postgraduate Course, later known as instruction courses, in 1921 to supplement the education already received at the annual meetings. Almost 600 were registered the first year. These courses were first given after the annual meeting, but by 1927 they were incorporated into the structure of the meeting itself.
In 1938, Academy secretary Harry Gradle suggested an innovative – and slightly outrageous – idea to further specialty education: the development of home study courses by the Academy. Initially designed as a ‘stop-gap’ measure to help fill the holes of specialty education, they evolved into a useful resource for continued education. The courses first began in 1940 with 485 registrants. Nine sections were included in the otolaryngology course: anatomy I and II; histology-pathology; physiology; bacteriology; biochemistry; otolaryngologic examination; hearing tests; and vestibular tests.
The Academy continued to develop educational resources for its members. It began to publish monographs, guides, and other materials in earnest soon after 1940, as supplements to the home study courses. Self-instructional packages, or SIPacs, were introduced in 1976. Each SIPac contains a review of one otolaryngology-related topic.
The Importance of Research
The Academy’s Research Fund began in 1921 with $27,000 in WWI Liberty Bonds. Yearly, a small portion of each member’s dues was marked for the fund, providing it with resources for steady growth. Research grants were given to a variety of projects and recipients frequently gave scientific papers at the annual meeting. In 1950, however, the purpose of the fund gained a more educational nature, and was so renamed. The Educational Fund was used to award research already completed. In addition, selected research reports were published in the Academy’s Transactions. A decade later, the fund was reestablished as the Educational Trust Fund and was used to support fellowships in pathology and yearly research awards.
The commitment to research continued with the AAO-HNS. A series of awards have been established to foster research in a variety of areas. In addition, the Academy successfully lobbied for the creation of a National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders within the National Institutes of Health in 1988.
Advocacy for Otolaryngology
The advocacy arm of the Academy began with the establishment of committees in 1924 to work on issues such as hearing tests, trachoma eradication, and legislation requiring lye to carry a poison label. These efforts remained a key part of Academy activities.
Academy advocacy efforts significantly expanded during the late twentieth century. In 1981, the American Council of Otolaryngology merged with the American Academy of Otolaryngology, an event which led to many of the Academy’s current advocacy programs. The Council, formed in 1968, provided national representation for otolaryngology, which was particularly significant for the specialty’s relationships with other medical organizations and the federal government.
This advocacy role continued after 1981 through the programs of the Academy. Issues that have developed along with managed care, including physician reimbursement, remain at the fore of the Academy’s advocacy efforts. State and local advocacy was accomplished largely through the Board of Governors, which first met in 1982. In 1984, the Academy began holding a yearly Legislative Briefing Day to get more members involved in advocacy.
Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology Separate
With a large membership and the consequent problems of finding appropriate facilities for the yearly annual meeting, the issue of splitting the Academy came to the fore. In 1962, the Triological Society passed a motion calling for a separate Academy of Otolaryngology. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that separate continuing education offices, separate finances, separate publications, and separate files were established.
The Academy focused a considerable amount of time and effort into carefully examining the pros and cons of dividing. In 1974, the Academy members adopted a resolution for “internal restructuring of the Academy into two separate operating divisions.” Then-president John J. Conley referred to this division as a ‘trial experience’ that would help the membership to determine if a complete separation was desirable. In 1978, a year after the Academy incorporated, the membership voted to dissolve the AAOO and create an American Academy of Otolaryngology and an American Academy of Ophthalmology. In 1979, the AAOO was officially dissolved.