Medical Conferences: What makes an Academic Meeting Great (Or Reflections on HRS 2012)

As my time at the Heart Rhythm Society’s annual meeting is coming to a close, I have begun to reflect on and evaluate this year’s event. Our time in Boston has been both productive and enjoyable. I have met with familiar faces from my medical training past and have collaborated with both new and old colleagues. We have shared opinions on disease and device management and even bickered over specific points related to the buzz surrounding the recent Riata lead recalls. I have had a great time in Boston and look forward to next year in Denver. With that in mind, I wanted to provide a few thoughts on what makes academic meetings great.

In 2006, a paper published in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology addressed the question of what makes a good meeting. In that manuscript, Dr Petsko lists the 10 characteristics of exceptional meetings. I have listed a few of the most important ones below and then evaluated this year’s HRS on these points.

  1. Human Interaction. Often the best part of the HRS annual session is the academic exchange among members—both strangers and old friends. Larger auditorium sessions do not always promote this type of interaction but if an attendee makes an effort to catch a speaker after the talk is over, I find that most HRS members are willing to talk and discuss a point with another physician scientist. Sessions that involve debates, audience participation and response often provide the most benefit.
  1. Gender and Ethnic diversity among speakers. I believe that as an international society HRS does a reasonably good job of promoting diversity of lecturers. As a “younger generation” EP doctor (I am out of fellowship 9 years now), I do believe that our society is a bit “Top Heavy” with the same very senior members giving the same talks every year. As a society, we must begin to embrace the younger generation of thought leaders and cultivate their participation. In the not so distant future, we are going to need new society leadership. I am personally involved in committee work and hope that my “Young Gun” colleagues will do the same. I sincerely hope that HRS will continue to promote our involvement in more meaningful committees and push to use us as expert lecturers in future scientific meetings.
  1. Even Very Specialized Conferences Benefit from “Outside the Box” Sessions. I have been promoting new and unique sessions to add to HRS for quite some time. I think that the society has struggled in this area in the past but is now interested in moving towards including unique, thought provoking sessions in the future. For example, HRS leadership has been very gracious in meeting with me and other leaders in Social Media in EP to discuss inclusion of social media sessions at next year’s meeting.

In Summary, I have enjoyed my time at HRS this year. Highlights have included meeting the Blog-father Dr Wes and Dr John Mandrola as well as many others. I have reconnected with friends from training and have interacted with my mentors. I have learned from my colleagues, and hopefully someone has learned something from me. In the end, it is my hope that we have improved patient care in Electrophysiology. By coming together and sharing expertise and knowledge, we are able to go back to our individual practices with renewed energy and a few new tricks to add to our bag. Now, off to the convention center for one more dose!

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