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ASPS: A Meeting of Diversity, Wellness, and Opportunities to Learn

Every year, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) puts on an annual meeting together with the Plastic Surgery Foundation and American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons. This year, the meeting was in sunny San Diego from September 20–23. And for the first time this year, two other organizations were added as hosts, including The Rhinoplasty Society and the American Society of Plastic Surgery Professionals.

The meeting was a veritable educational buffet! The meeting format was changed several years ago in order to supply more value to membership. Historically, the meeting consisted of main sessions in large lecture halls with panel discussions that were included with registration and separate, smaller, “a la carte” instructional courses with additional registration fees over and above what was paid to attend the meeting. This traditional format may have worked in the past, but in an effort to provide a bigger bang for your buck, and also a more intimate interaction with speakers, the format changed to a single registration fee that provided an “all you can eat” educational experience that really resonated with the attendees. And with more than 20 concurrent tracks running simultaneously, most in a small group format, there were certainly a ton of educational opportunities for everyone! The membership certainly responded with nearly 3,600 people registering for the meeting, the second highest attended meeting of all time for ASPS.

The meeting actually began before it began, so to speak. Pre-conference symposia on a variety of topics was offered to members, including built-in hands-on cadaver lab experiences in order to augment the educational value. Topics were covered that are emerging trends in plastic surgery, such as migraine surgery, facial feminization, targeted muscle reinnervation, as well as traditional topics such as facelifting. In addition, there were new Simulation Lab sessions that proved immensely and instantly popular. Topics included acellular dermal matrix wrapping, facial sculpting, and ultrasound use in plastic surgery. These sessions allowed attendees to try out equipment, practice their skills, and demonstrate their understanding of key concepts, all under the guidance of masters in the field. The members truly valued these symposia and sessions as the rooms were filled with both domestic and international members. As a matter of fact, the international membership to the society is growing by leaps and bounds, now comprising over 30% of the organization’s membership. This is also reflected in the wide diversity of people attending the meeting, coming from 76 countries around the world.

From a scientific standpoint, this meeting broke records. More than 1,000 scientific abstracts were submitted for presentation, nearly double that of previous years, which is a testament to the fact that there is a ton of investigational work going on in this very active field in order to improve patient care, outcomes, and minimize complications. But it was not just the science that attracted the second highest attendance ever, it was the practical educational content, as well. Multiple courses and panels were run on practice management that offered insights and advice across a wide variety of topics that are applicable not only to private practice, but group practice, employed physicians, and even academic practices.

One of the emerging hot topics in medicine (not just plastic surgery) that had a huge footprint in the meeting was that of wellness and balance. For far too long, this topic has been largely ignored across all specialties. Thankfully, there is great interest in trying to achieve the best balance possible, because in order to take care of our patients, we have to take care of ourselves. At this meeting, ASPS continued the trend from 2014 when it first identified and started incorporating this topic into its meetings. Interestingly, the diversity of speakers included not only physicians at different stages in their “lifecycles,” but also spouses and significant others. This refreshing addition helps address the fact that historically, we have spent 100% of our time talking about 50% of the issue. These panels were extremely well attended, from medical students all the way up to people who have spent decades in clinical practice. In some cases, it was literally standing room only. Clearly the Society is listening to its membership and their needs by supplying this atypical, but critical, educational content.

The diversity of speakers and attendees was incredible, reinforcing the meeting motto – “Learn Together. Succeed Together.” Not only was there more balance than ever before in terms of gender, race, and practice type, but we also heard from FDA leadership, practice managers and staff, and, importantly, from patients themselves, who were represented both on the podium as well as in the audience. Additional in-meeting summits took place to help share ideas and perspectives between members and their patients. These incredibly invaluable additions really helped round out conversations on critical topics in plastic surgery. 

At the end of the day, this was one of the most outstanding meetings ever put on by ASPS. From a personal perspective, it was well worth the time away from my clinical practice and I certainly came home with more than I left with. It was a great opportunity to learn about cutting edge topics, scientific advances, and practical pearls to help better take care of patients. But it also was a fantastic opportunity to see good friends from across the country and world and meet new friends, all of whom share the same common interests. 

I look forward to next year’s meeting in San Francisco from October 16–19, as well as to the new Spring Meeting put on by ASPS in New Orleans March 12–14, 2020!

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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