Published: June 11, 2024

The Never-Ending Transitions Through Life

We live in a world of near constant change. Focus your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.


James C. Denneny III, MD AAO-HNS/F Executive Vice President and CEOJames C. Denneny III, MD
AAO-HNS/F Executive Vice President and CEO
Change and the resultant times of transition have been and continue to be constants of life. There have been volumes written about all types of change—seasons of change, evolutionary, predictable, orderly, and disruptive change, as well as why we need change, and advice on how to manage change and deal with the pain it can cause. Some of mankind’s most recognized quotes emanated from the pervasiveness of the topic. John F. Kennedy opined, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

July heralds a time of great anticipation, celebration, enthusiasm, opportunity, and hope for many otolaryngologists, and physicians in general, as the seasonal academic calendar of training resets its yearly schedule. Medical students progress forward to the residency program identified by the “Match” in March. Residents-in-training move to the next level or complete that phase of their education and will be starting a fellowship or a job they have been envisioning for the previous five years. The academic community will say goodbye and good luck to their graduating charges while welcoming the next class of eager learners. The private practice community will also welcome much-needed colleagues to bolster their ranks and allow them to better serve their respective communities.

This type of planned transition is typically orderly and welcomed. It illustrates how life is a story of transition, always leaving one chapter behind while moving on to the next. The execution and completion of a complex plan, such as becoming a board-certified otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon, can be extremely satisfying but is by no means easy or predictable. The additional education one gets traversing impediments during the process of completing such plans are often as much or more helpful than the challenges originally accounted for. The adaptation strategies one learns by overcoming obstacles, while often painful, can serve as added value to the initial project.

Organizationally, this July brings both the typical seasonal transitions as well as several additional areas of transformational change. The Academy and Foundation’s fiscal year runs from July 1 – June 30, necessitating that the Fiscal Year 2025 budget be completed and approved by the Boards of Directors (BOD) by June 30, 2024. The budget is linked to the current strategic plan and areas of focus within the plan, as identified by the Financial Investment Sub-Committee (FISC), Executive Committee of the BOD, and the entire BOD. The next wave of Academy leadership was selected through our election process ending on June 13, 2024. These volunteer leaders will begin their terms of service immediately following our The AAO-HNSF 2024 Annual Meeting & OTO EXPOSM September 28 – October 1 in Miami Beach, Florida.

This year’s new leadership class will be joined by a new Executive Vice President (EVP) and CEO of the organization. The search committee, charged with identifying and selecting a new EVP/CEO, was chaired by current President Douglas D. Backous, MD. The search committee presents its chosen candidate to the BOD for approval on July 10, 2024. Once approved, the selection will be announced to the staff and general membership on July 11, 2024. They will then begin in November 2024, collaborating with me during a transitional period prior to fully assuming the position.

On July 1, 2024, the Foundation released what I believe will be a truly transformative addition to the resident-in-training didactic education paradigm. The Otolaryngology Core Curriculum (OCC) is a two-year program containing 100 modules covering the breadth of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. It uses state-of-the-art tools and platforms that incorporate the best multimedia content. The OCC also integrates advanced analytics that will help identify gaps in learning and direct the ongoing update process that will make this a living, evergreen offering suitable for multiple additional user groups both domestically and internationally. These include international training programs, practicing otolaryngologists, otolaryngology-related hospital and office staff, and advanced practice providers.

During the nine-plus years that I have been the EVP/CEO, the AAO-HNS/F and specialty, as well as the world we live in, have undergone meaningful change and transition at many levels, both societally and scientifically—some easier than others.

My personal life helped me prepare for and embrace opportunities while thriving during times of upheaval and transformation. By the time I had started my residency, I had moved 11 times and held nine different jobs, mostly blue-collar. As I progressed through my training in different practice situations, I developed personal guiding principles that helped me recognize and take advantage of opportunities and adapt quickly when needed.

I also learned the value of patience and delayed gratification. Robert Louis Stevenson wisely said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.”

In the Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the character Socrates opines on how to be successful in leading change and transition by stating, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” The ability to maintain concentration on the goal you are seeking as you encounter distractions not pivotal to the ultimate completion and acceptance of the project often makes the difference between success and failure.

When the character Sonny Weaver, Jr. stated, “We live in a different world than we did just 30 seconds ago,” in the movie Draft Day, which was released just as I was starting this job in 2014, he had no idea how right he would be. It has been quite a wonderful journey.


More from July 2024 – Vol. 43, No. 7