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The Surgeon celebrates tenth anniversary

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13 Feb 2013

Professor Austin Leahy, Editor-in-Chief of The Surgeon, discusses how the journal has made its mark in the fast-changing world of academic publishing

The SurgeonWhen it first launched in February 2003, The Surgeon: Journal of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Ireland became the first intercollegiate surgical title in the UK and Ireland, replacing the respective journals of the RCSEd and RCSI. The move came about through each College's commitment to further intercollegiate cooperation, giving the journal a combined readership of an impressive 18,000.

"The immediate benefit of The Surgeon to both Colleges is the prestige of having a fully indexed journal which is backed up by the integrity of Elsevier as a flagship publication," says Professor Austin Leahy, the journal's Editor-in-Chief since 2007.

In its first decade, The Surgeon has seen its Impact Factor (IF) go from zero to 1.406 - making it one of the highest-ranking general surgical membership titles in the IF index. Under Professor Leahy's editorship The Surgeon has been taken on by international publishing giant Elsevier with an ambitious plan to develop its online presence and increase the global readership beyond the Colleges' memberships.

"I wanted to increase the profile of the journal, which has been achieved through its dissemination via ScienceDirect [Elsevier's scientific database containing over 11 million full text journal articles and book chapters] and also through the improvement in the impact factor," says Professor Leahy.

"Secondly, I wanted to focus the journal more on post-graduate surgery and to that end we have increased the content of quality review articles. Finally, I hoped that we would continue to provide an outlet for original research and I believe we have achieved this as well."

In addition to improving the online presence of the journal itself, the submission and peer review processes have also gone online. Here's another area where journal has been able to provide a better service for its authors, with the average time from submission to decision down to under two weeks, and the time from acceptance to first publication on ScienceDirect to within six weeks of submission.

The wider world of science, technical and medical publishing has changed hugely over the last decade, with many prominent journals now concentrating their efforts on digital platforms. More recently, social media is being used to provide better reader engagement and other journals are exploring the potential of multimedia content. So how is The Surgeon keeping pace with these developments?

Professor Leahy responds: "Our podcasts initiative has been received well and is an initial toe in the water for the next phase of medical publishing. I expect that journals like ours will increasingly utilise digital media to make scientific publication more interactive, more multidisciplinary and more relevant to practising surgeons around the world."

Regular editions of a printed academic journal have been a staple RCSEd membership benefit since the 1950s, but this is slowly changing with a print-opt out scheme offering online only access, but with the bonus of free-of-charge access to 10 additional Elsevier journals.

However, he still sees value in having a printed journal: "In the digital age, I expect that non-peer-reviewed journals will flourish on the internet. The role of The Surgeon is to provide peer-reviewed and professionally validated research, which inevitably will have a greater integrity and validity than self-published papers."

Its ranking at 97 in Thomson Reuters' IF index makes The Surgeon one of the few general surgical membership titles within top 100. Professor Leahy sees this niche position very much as an advantage: "Because our journal is general in the truest sense, including not only all the specialities of surgery but also of dentistry, we are going to be restricted in terms of the papers we can attract and also the impact factor we can achieve," he explains. "That being said, I would recognise the strength of a publication such as ours which means that specialists can publish a paper and target it at a wider group, especially in situations where they may be involved in multidisciplinary care of specific conditions." Another key strength, he believes, is the worldwide spread of both RCSEd and RCSI's memberships, which allows the journal to tackle topics of international interest. Finally, the increasing emphasis on healthcare management and training issues allows The Surgeon to provide a conduit between different specialities, all of whom are tackling similar difficulties.

Given the huge changes within academic publishing in the last 10 years, it is, of course, difficult to predict where the journal will be in another 10 years. Regardless of how the publishing world may change, Professor Leahy knows what the journal's strengths are and how to build on them: "We will increasingly focus on post-graduate education, on the publication of important research articles, and on developing links between specialities in the areas of workforce development and healthcare management. The Surgeon's emphasis on electronic publication will develop apace, for which we are very grateful for the continuing support of Elsevier and ScienceDirect."

Writing in the very first edition of the College's journal, published in September 1955 - shortly after the College's 450th Anniversary - the President Sir Walter Mercer said: "It is my hope that the Journal will serve not only to bring our many Fellows all over the world into closer association with each other and with their surgical Alma Mater, but at the same time provide a window on recent advances and current practice in surgery."

More than half a century later, the 'Journal' is still providing a window on advances and practice in surgery, but is doing so in ways that the original Editorial Committee of 1955 could scarcely have imagined.

Get 10 extra journals when you opt for online only access

Fellows and Members can sign up to read The Surgeon online only and receive unlimited access to 10 additional titles at no extra cost:

  • Surgery
  • International Journal of Cardiology
  • Surgical Oncology
  • Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery
  • Injury
  • Journal of Dentistry
  • International Journal of Surgery
  • Best Practice and Research Clinical Gastroenterology
  • Current Anaesthesia and Critical Care
  • Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine

Fellows and Members can sign up for this by contacting:

RCSEd: membership@rcsed.ac.uk / +44 (0) 131 527 1654

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