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The International Bariatric Club (IBC): Born in the Cleveland Clinic, grown by the world and matured at the University of Oxford
Professor Tomasz Rogula, Founder IBC

The year was 2008 and it was another Wednesday evening monthly ‘Journal Club’ presented by the bariatric surgery fellows of the Cleveland Clinic Ohio. As I listened attentively to the excellent presentations it became apparent to me there was no one in the room besides the 4 Fellows and a handful of senior surgeons. I felt the meticulously prepared, high quality presentations needed more exposure to allow the dissemination of knowledge and keep bariatric healthcare professionals updated and thus indirectly help improve patient care. It was while thinking about this issue that I reached out to Cisco Systems based in San Francisco who within a few weeks authorised free use of their conferencing software platform, WEBEX, at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008 to broadcast these journal clubs online.  Within a few months the viewership of these journal clubs increased significantly with initially Cleveland Clinic Florida joining the online journal clubs thanks to the support of Professor Raul Rosenthal as well as a small number of hospitals with bariatric surgery programs within the United States. What happened next was unimaginable; a handful of surgeons from Egypt, China, Japan and Russia also logged in once a month to listen and take part in the journal club thus giving birth to the International Bariatric Club.  At that stage I had a strong premonition that using the internet would make the IBC a trailblazer in global online education. However the future was still unclear and I definitely did not envisage 10 years later that the IBC would end up hosting its’ first Annual World Congress at Christ Church, University of Oxford. Indeed Christ Church is one of the most prestigious colleges of the University of Oxford; ironically the same Oxford college the inventor of the World Wide Web, Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee is affiliated with and the same college my next Cleveland Clinic Fellow, a soft spoken, humble and enthusiastic British surgeon named Haris Khwaja was educated at a decade earlier. 

With the popularity of the webinar journal clubs given by the 2009/10 fellows from the Cleveland Clinic soaring the attention of Professor Harvey Sugarman was piqued and we arranged for Professor Sugarman to give a bariatric surgery presentation via the internet on ‘Metabolic Surgery in Low BMI Type 2 Diabetic Patients’ in 2009. Following this, the interest from globally respected surgeons and gastroenterologists grew rapidly resulting in a monthly webinar through the IBC digital platform in collaboration with Cisco Systems.

In line with the rapid global growth of social media from the creation of Facebook in 2004, the IBC in 2010 established an online social media Facebook page dedicated to bariatric healthcare professionals thanks to the vision of Dr. Marius Nedelcu from Romania. Through extensive collaboration with the Facebook Communication Team in San Francisco the IBC Facebook Page was established allowing discussion of clinical cases, videos, complications, scientific papers and promotion of upcoming meetings and educational events. Indeed the close collaboration with the Facebook Team has helped improve the functionality of the IBC Facebook Page which currently has over 6000 members from over 140 countries.

As the IBC webinars gained increasing popularity and the IBC Facebook page started to blossom, the quality of the IBC educational platform was recognised by Professor Rudolf Weiner, a global leader and pioneer in bariatric surgery from Germany. As Congress President of the 16th IFSO World Congress which was held in Hamburg, Germany in 2011 Professor Weiner invited the IBC to set up a satellite symposium at his congress to allow a live discussion of key controversies in bariatric surgery. The event was an overwhelming success attracting the active participation of Professor Manoel Galvao Neto from Brazil, Professor Michel Gagner from Canada, Dr. Jaime Ponce and Professor Phil Schauer from the USA, Professor Chih Kun Huang from Taiwan, Professor Catalin Copaescu from Romania and many more global leaders. This successful small symposium at IFSO Hamburg provided the catalyst for regular IBC satellite symposia at the IFSO World Congress from 2011 to 2015 as well as at IFSO European Chapter Meetings with Miss Cynthia Michelle Borg from the United Kingdom organising many of these events herself. It was astonishing that with every annual IFSO World Congress from 2011 the popularity and attendance at the IBC symposium at IFSO grew exponentially such that at IFSO Vienna in 2015 there was an audience of 393 delegates in a packed hall in the stunning Hofburg Imperial Palace. The IBC symposia at IFSO were also unique in that IBC TV, directed by Professor Ariel Ortiz Lagardere from Mexico was a regular presence. High quality interviews were conducted with surgeons at the congress by Professor Ortiz to get a close up perspective about the surgeon and feedback from him or her about the congress. Following the IFSO Vienna Congress sadly there were no IBC symposia at the next 3 IFSO World Congresses in Rio de Janeiro (2016), London (2017) and Dubai (2018). However during the period after IFSO Vienna the IBC was invited to a dozen national congresses throughout the world to set up satellite symposia which allowed the IBC brand of education to be delivered in a focused and country specific way spearheaded by Mr Haris Khwaja. He went on to lead with Dr. Diana Gabriela Maldonado Pintado from Mexico 12 IBC satellite symposia at national congresses over the next 3 years following the IFSO Vienna World Congress. Having known both Haris and Gabriela for many years I was well aware that despite their calm and polite demeanour they were always very ambitious and determined young surgeons.

The next breakthrough for IBC was in September 2016. It was on September 29th, 2016 I received a phone call from Haris Khwaja at midnight UK time. He was at his 15 year reunion dinner at his alma mater, Oxford University and had been speaking to The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy, The Dean of Christ Church College, University of Oxford. The conversation we had was brief suffice to say he sounded very excited and stated that he will organise an IBC-Oxford University World Congress in 2018 and has the full support of the Dean. I put the phone down thinking ‘impossible’. Fast forward 18 months and the First IBC-Oxford University World Congress was indeed now a reality. It was held from March 26th-27th, 2018 at Christ Church, University of Oxford.  Christ Church was chosen as Haris was an alumnus of this famous and prestigious Oxford college and with the support of the Dean and his good friend and fellow bariatric surgeon, Mr. Bruno Sgromo from the Nuffield Department of Surgery, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford he had all the support to organise it.  Indeed Christ Church College, University of Oxford was the perfect setting for the congress with its rich history of academic excellence, innovation, leadership and the close proximity of Oxford to London. Christ Church is one of the largest colleges of the University of Oxford with notable alumni including Albert Einstein, Sir Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web), King Edward VII, 13 British Prime Ministers, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania, William Penn, the theologian John Wesley, the poet W.H. Auden and the author and mathematician Professor Charles Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll) who wrote ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Christ Church is also one of a select few colleges chosen to be a filming location for the ‘Harry Potter’ films. The theme of the congress was ‘Managing Obesity and Diabetes: From the Laboratory to the Clinic to the Operating Room to the World’ and provided a forum for the detailed analysis and interrogation of key issues in the management of obesity and diabetes from a surgical, medical, endoscopic and public health perspective. Lunch and Dinner on both days was also held in the Great Hall at Christ Church, University of Oxford. There were 133 delegates from 39 countries and 14 sponsors supported the congress and we received very positive feedback from all the delegates. The success of the inaugural congress provided the catalyst for the planning for the Second IBC-Oxford University World Congress which was held from April 2-3, 2019 at the University of Oxford Examination Schools with dinner on both days in the Great Hall at Christ Church, University of Oxford. The grand and historic Examination Schools provided a beautiful venue for the meeting which attracted 255 delegates from 54 countries with global and national leaders in bariatric surgery, obesity and diabetes attending the congress. The congress was accredited by the Royal College of Surgeons of England and endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama through a personal letter conveyed by Professor Pradeep Chowbey at the beginning of the congress. Endorsement was also received from the prestigious Brazilian Society of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery (SBCBM). The event was also featured live on Brazilian television. The congress feedback was again very positive and preparations are currently underway for the Third IBC-Oxford University World Congress to be held from April 6-7, 2020 at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford with dinner on both days in the Great Hall at Christ Church, University of Oxford.


The IBC journey is a great example whereby a little idea of developing a global online education tool for bariatric healthcare professionals grew to become something significant and innovative well beyond my imagination despite many challenges experienced along the way. The IBC movement aims to deliver high quality unbiased education in an environment of equality to allow all bariatric healthcare professionals to learn and ultimately provide the best possible care for our patients

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