Published: August 30, 2021

125 Strong Campaign | Invest in the Future of Otolaryngology Education—Making Learning Fun, Challenging, and Rewarding

Since its founding 125 years ago, the AAO-HNSF has been devoted to the education of its members. Education has been, and must continue to be, a pillar of the AAO-HNSF.

125 BadgeRichard V. Smith, MD, Chair, 125 Strong Campaign, Education

How did we get here and what is the future?

Since its founding 125 years ago, the AAO-HNSF has been devoted to the education of its members. Education has been, and must continue to be, a pillar of the AAO-HNSF. Over the past decades, we have continually assessed and evolved our education offerings to provide the most meaningful education tools to our members. As we move into the future, I’m inspired to share a vision for embracing an innovative mindset in terms of how we continue to learn within the practice of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. 

 For example: 

  • It’s GOOD that we have a single-source repository for otolaryngology education through, where we can use this standard, referenced study guide as a student, resident, program director, faculty, or practicing otolaryngologist.
  • It’s BETTER that we have nearly 1,400 activities in to access online activities to provide and test knowledge across the breadth of our specialty.
  • It would be BEST, however, if there were a way to develop, support, and hone the cognitive, technical, and behavioral skill sets needed for otolaryngology through gamification and virtual-reality/augmented-reality (VR/AR) learning. 

These “serious games” provide several benefits to the learner, including increasing learning satisfaction, engagement, and motivation. They can also be disseminated to a broad audience and allow for self-paced learning, repetition, and continual assessment. What’s more, it provides rewards and can foster a spirit of competition to spur learners’ concentration, which leads to more effective learning. This type of simulation-based learning is not new—think of flight simulators, surgical simulators, or multiplayer, role-playing games—but this is a new area for our Academy.

The patient is the beneficiary of our planning, training, facilitating, and practicing.

Rather than ask, “What is the value of learning at this next level?” perhaps the question should be, “What is the cost if we do not?” 

This past year, Foundation education made its first foray into serious games with Complex Airway Management Simulation, created to enhance learning in the FLEX April section on Tracheostomy Management. The objective of this serious game was to challenge the physician’s ability to identify the critical steps to obtain and secure a difficult airway in the setting of a large obstructing supraglottic mass that was bleeding. Learners were able to repeat the scenario as often as needed to test alternative management schemes and support surgical training as the learner prepares for a similar emergent scenario that may arise while on call or in the hospital setting.

Examples such as this new format are where we, Jeffrey P. Simons, MD, MMM, AAO-HNSF Coordinator for Education; the Education leadership (staff and physicians alike); and I, believe the specialty needs to direct its focus. This will require proper funding and support. While traditional formats still play an important role in gaining mastery, serious gaming and VR/AR platforms clearly take our learning to the next level by making it fun, challenging, and rewarding. 

Be a part of this exciting new era in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery education. The 125 Strong Campaign is awaiting your individual contribution. Your name will appear in the list of donors who are choosing a path toward advancing foundation education over the next two years.

As the Chair of this arm of the campaign and as former AAO-HNSF Coordinator for Education, I remain passionate and committed to seeing our Academy invest in the future, to continue to be innovative in our teaching and learning approaches, enabling us to be the best doctors and surgeons for our patients. 

Please join me and contribute today at

More from September 2021 – Vol. 40, No. 8