On May 13, 1998, The American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) became the single largest organization in North America for the advancement of research and education in head and neck oncology. The merger of two societies, the American Society for Head and Neck Surgery and the Society of Head and Neck Surgeons, formed the American Head and Neck Society.
The contributions made by the two societies forming the AHNS are significant in the history of surgery in the United States. Dr. Hayes Martin conceived the Society of Head and Neck Surgeons in 1954, a surgeon considered by many to be the “father of modern head and neck tumor surgery.” The purpose of the society was to exchange and advance the scientific knowledge relevant to the surgery of head and neck tumors (exclusive of brain surgery) with an emphasis on cancer of the head and neck. Two years later, The American Society for Head and Neck Surgery was organized with the goal to “facilitate and advance knowledge relevant to surgical treatment of diseases of the head and neck, including reconstruction and rehabilitation; promote advancement of the highest professional and ethical standards as they pertain to the practice of major head and neck surgery; and to honor those who have made major contributions in the field of head and neck surgery, or have aided in its advancement”.
The new Society remains dedicated to the common goals of its parental organizations.
AHNS – Tenth Anniversary
The new American Head and Neck Society was founded as a merger of two head and neck societies, the Society of Head and Neck Surgeons (SHNS) and the American Society for Head and Neck Surgery (ASHNS), in 1998. The SHNS was founded under the leadership of Hayes Martin, William MacComb, Grant Ward, and others in 1954. It was initially dominated by general surgeons. A parallel society (ASHNS) was established by John Conley, George Sisson, and others in 1958. Even though there was considerable rivalry and animosity between the two societies initially, over a period of time, many cooperative activities were undertaken by the two societies. Several leading head and neck surgeons with an ENT background trained many young otolaryngologists with a special interest in head and neck surgery.
Over the years, both of the societies became well established, and ran parallel to each other. The SHNS membership consisted primarily of general surgeons, plastic surgeons and surgical oncologists interested in head and neck surgery, while membership in the ASHNS was comprised of otolaryngologists. Early on, significant hostility and disrespect was evident in members of both organizations who saw each society as being competitive, however, rational individuals from each group recognized that the two societies possessed similar goals and objectives. Several combined activities were undertaken, beginning first with the Advanced Training Council and occasional combined annual meetings of the two societies, and annual head and neck workshops. In 1984, under the leadership of Paul B. Chretien, MD (SHNS), the first combined International Conference on Head and Neck Cancer was planned by a committee representing leadership of both societies. This meeting followed a successful NCI Head and Neck Oncology Research Workshop initiated in 1980 to address the clinical and research advances in multidisciplinary care. The success of these collaborative activities brought head and neck surgeons from both societies closer together, bridging the gap. As the workshops and quadrennial International Conferences continued for a period of approximately 10 years, the members of both organizations came closer and closer.
The issues of merger, unification, and amalgamation were discussed as early as 1960. The formal first meeting was held in Atlanta on October 15, 1989. The discussions continued over a period of time, with several ups and downs. These issues were brought for discussion in each individual society, as well as the joint training council. After the 1996 International Conference on Head and Neck Cancer in Toronto, the leaders of SHNS seriously considered the merger of the two organizations, and the discussions began. After extensive discussions, the merger agreement was prepared, and a new society was born in 1998 – The American Head and Neck Society. The first two co-presidents were Ashok Shaha and K. Thomas Robbins.
It is now 50 years since the founding of the ASHNS and 10 years since the birth of the new society. Many young members may not be aware of the tumultuous history of the two societies. Clearly, the new society represents a stronger bond amongst head and neck surgeons and a broader representation of the multiple disciplines countrywide with a special interest in furthering the care of head and neck cancer patients. Happy Anniversary, American Head and Neck Society.
Ashok Shaha, MD
K. Thomas Robbins, MD
Gregory Wolf, MD