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My Top Takeaways from Digestive Disease Week Meeting

This year, Digestive Disease Week (DDW) celebrated its 50th anniversary (1969-2019), with a kick-off celebration to begin this year’s meeting. When reflecting on Digestive Disease Week 2019, which took place in San Diego from May 18-21, 2019, it is hard to articulate one takeaway message from the meeting, given the time spent at such a vibrant place can hardly be captured by such an approach. However, my biggest takeaways from DDW fall into these three domains:

The Science

Content for DDW’s Post-Graduate Course and Annual Meeting was diverse and fresh. From updates in the care of the patient with inflammatory bowel disease, to artificial intelligence, to physician burnout, to training recruitment strategies, there was something for everyone. Sessions such as the “Best of DDW” were great encapsulations of the top abstracts being showcased, and a way to see cutting edge research. The poster exhibit hall was burgeoning with physicians at all stages of their training and careers, presenting novel research to a group of interested poster reviewers and others interested in the science. Posters have become more interactive and digitized over time, mirroring the transformation in health care. The mobile app allowed attendees to see any of the events of the differing societies (AGA, ASGE, AASLD, SSAT) at any one time, permitting great diversity in the meeting content one could take in.

The real challenge many of us face when attending DDW is having to make difficult decisions of what to sessions to go to when there were so many great offerings! How does one mitigate that? Social media has not only revolutionized how an attendee can experience the meeting, but it offers a way to bring the meeting back to those who were unable to attend. Some of the top Twitter hashtags from DDW 2019 were, of course, #DDW19, #MayoDDW19 and #DDW2019, but also #IBD, #SSAT19, #some4surgery, #ibs, #worldIBDday, #Microbiome, and #Crohns.

So if you missed a session you wanted to attend, or you were unable to make the meeting at all, don’t fret! Hop on Twitter, and look to see the tweets under each of these hashtags. It is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience continuing medical education!

The Networking

One of the best aspects of any national meeting is the networking with friends from afar and doing meet-ups with mentees and prior alumni. Truly, this is always the highlight for me with any of the meetings I go to. Many gastrointestinal (GI) divisions held alumni receptions in concert with DDW, and as a prior GI and current Internal Medicine Program Director, there is nothing more exciting than catching up with prior trainees that have gone on to develop successful careers in their respective domains. When I see our alumni going on to serve as program directors, section chiefs, guideline authors, and transformers of the landscape of GI, it truly inspires. Sitting down for coffee, lunch, or dinner for one-on-one meetings with prior trainees or mentees has reassured me that the future of GI will be bright. There were countless networking receptions and opportunities, and while trainees, junior faculty, or introverts may shy away from these events, I have found that they are key to interacting with others in the field that share similar interests, and are an effective way to find collaborators, mentors, and sponsors. I thoroughly enjoy connecting with others who “grew up” in GI at the same time I did, but also being able to show appreciation for those that have offered me the opportunities that have gotten me where I am today. Although it takes a degree of momentum after a full day at the meeting to attend these events, the benefits are vast. The true value is also in paying it forward, like bringing a mentee to a networking reception and introducing him or her to others is what this is all about.

Although social media (#SoMe) allowed attendees and others to follow the science, it also allowed attendees to display group photos at the “#DDW19” sign, with full-page spreads in the “DDW News” bulletin being dedicated to such selfies. I am not going to lie — I took plenty of selfies with friends and mentees!

The City of San Diego

San Diego is one of the ideal venues to hold a meeting. It is definitely a personal favorite! The weather is typically sunny and temperate, there is a plethora of activities nearby, and the diversity and freshness of local cuisine is exquisite. While the sun popped in and out during #DDW19, and rain was an occasional threat, it did not prevent many from getting out for a run or walk along the pier or taking in the sites of the beautiful boats, local markets, or historical landmarks. It was inspirational to see all of the runners outside my hotel gather for the Navy’s 33rd Bay Bridge Run/Walk, and while it was tempting to join them, committee meetings took priority! San Diego is the one city where you can identify the tourists’ origin, with those of us from Minnesota cruising around in shorts and tank tops, while the south Floridians wore their down parkas. While some headed to Petco Park to watch a game at night, many others flocked to the pier or to the Gaslamp district for fresh seafood. After filling up on ceviche and other local catch, I spent the remainder of each night strategizing how to make the most of the next day at DDW!

Amy Oxentenko, MD is a Gastroenterologist who tweets (and posts conference selfies) at @AmyOxentenkoMD.

Image by solar22 / Shutterstock

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