March 13, 2008
The American College of Surgeons (ACS) has established a new Health Policy Institute, which will be based initially at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Photograph, Dr. Tom Ricketts

Photograph, Dr. Tom Ricketts

Dr. George F. Sheldon, Zack D. Owens distinguished professor of surgery in UNC’s School of Medicine and a former president of the ACS, was selected through a national search to be director of the institute. Thomas J. Ricketts, PhD, professor of health policy and administration and deputy director of UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Policy Research, has been selected as administrative director.

“I am very excited about this collaboration between the American College of Surgeons and UNC,” said Dr. Thomas R. Russell, executive director of the ACS. “Both George Sheldon and Tom Ricketts are nationally respected authorities, and the Sheps Center has a long and distinguished record in conducting health policy research. Basing the ACS Health Policy Institute at UNC will enable the ACS to begin our research much more quickly than if we built an entirely new program from scratch,” he added.

Russell said the new institute will conduct research in many areas of health policy that promise to be increasingly important in the current health care environment. One example, he said, are surgeon workforce issues, such as how many surgeons will be needed in the future, in which specialties and where they will need to be based.

“Most experts who have studied the issue believe that we are going to have a shortage of surgeons in the not-too-distant future,” Russell said. “We need to be able to address that, and the ACS Health Policy Institute will play a very important role in providing the data needed to guide policy decisions on this and many other issues.”

Sheldon said some research dealing with issues related to the surgical workforce has already been conducted as a result of the collaboration between the ACS and UNC. These projects will be credited jointly and co-branded with the ACS, he said.

“The dynamics of health care are occurring at a time when both the scientific and the social aspects of health care are changing rapidly. Thus, the need exists for scholarly, well thought-out policies, based on the best evidence that can be generated. This collaboration should develop information and policy recommendations of use as we continue to participate constructively in health care reform,” Sheldon said.

Ricketts said “there is growing pressure on physicians to document the work they do and to be as cost effective as possible.

“The Institute will help develop the data that can show what surgeons are doing well and where there may be ways to reduce costs. The institute will tackle the question of ‘how many doctors do we need?’ by examining the productivity of surgeons and their distribution. Congress is currently considering changes in how it supports medical education and we need good answers to support their decision making,” Ricketts said.

In addition, the ACS Health Policy Institute has received requests for collaborative projects from other highly respected research institutes, including the Institute for Health Policy Change and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Workforce Center.

“We expect that the research program of the ACS Health Policy Institute will be productive fairly rapidly, because of these relationships and our access to this unique expertise,” Sheldon said.

The new institute will be headquartered in the Sheps Center until a new building to house the College’s Washington, D.C., staff is completed, in 2010. At that time the institute’s headquarters will relocate to Washington, but much of its work will remain based at UNC, according to Russell.

“The American College of Surgeons is the largest organization of surgeons in the world and has an international presence with chapters in over fifty countries,” Sheldon said. “The siting of the ACS Health Policy Institute in a collaborative venture with a respected and established health policy center, such as the Sheps Center, is an innovative approach.”


School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or

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College of Surgeons contact: Sally Garneski, (312) 202-6409 or



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