For many people like me, the annual Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) meeting marks the end of an always-too-long winter season. Indeed, it often symbolizes the beginning of spring and rejuvenation for me in both the personal and professional aspects of my life. In any other year, we are given the opportunity to immerse ourselves amongst individuals who share the same passions as us. We network. We present our research. We have constructive arguments. We engage in hands-on teaching and learning. And most importantly, we are together. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and the ability to attend an in-person scientific meeting is no exception. Nevertheless, as Dr. Aurora Pryor said in her Presidential Address, one of the greatest strengths of our organization and our profession is our ability to react to change. Which is exactly what we did this year.
I would like to congratulate Dr. Aurora Pryor, the outgoing SAGES President, Dr. Matthew Goldblatt and Dr. Leena Khaitan, the SAGES 2020 Program Co-Chairs, the administrative staff at SAGES, and anyone else who played a role in the successful execution of the first-ever virtual annual SAGES meeting. As many of you may be aware, the recent use of some virtual platforms has been met with significant challenges. While I am sure that there were some obstacles along the way, the final online virtual annual SAGES meeting program has been nothing short of a pleasant surprise!
In case you missed the meeting, do not feel left out. Not only is the registration for the virtual meeting still available, but all of the pre-recorded sessions and recordings of the live sessions that aired last week are available for CME credit through March of 2021. There is no doubt that I will welcome the return of in-person scientific meetings when it is safe to do so. But, not all should be lost from the details of this virtual meeting when in-person meetings return. For example, while some in-live sessions at the annual SAGES meeting are recorded every year, all of the sessions in the virtual meeting have been recorded and are available online. These recordings include both those that were submitted ahead of time as well as the live sessions. This repository of presentations, which discusses current clinical practice guidelines, summarizes the most important and recent scientific studies, offers tips and tricks for challenging cases, and provides guidance to trainees in terms of career progression, is invaluable. For the first time since I began attending scientific meetings, not only did I not miss a single presentation that interested me, but I felt relieved of the burden of having to write down notes during sessions because I have the ability to re-access this repository at any time.
Another strength of the virtual meeting platform was the effort invested in the social aspect of the annual SAGES meeting. Of course, I would have preferred to be at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame watching the all-too-infamous sing off performances while enjoying the best cuisine that Cleveland has to offer, but there were happy hour events every evening during the virtual meeting which were a close second. In addition to alumni gatherings, SAGES invited some members to submit a topic of discussion for happy hour and several of those submissions were then nominated to host. These social events not only provided the opportunity for attendees to virtually network but they also allowed participants to “Zoom hop” from one event to the other, which is the closest to being in two places at once that I have ever been.
In summary, SAGES reacted to change and it did so with grace. In the span of four short months, SAGES went from planning and re-planning two in-person meetings to successfully hosting one of the first-ever virtual surgical scientific meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I have no doubt that subsequent virtual surgical scientific meetings will emulate many of the aspects of this year’s virtual annual SAGES meeting. I again feel rejuvenated by the annual SAGES meeting and I am thankful that we were able to continue to progress our surgical profession safely.
Ivy N. Haskins is a board-certified general surgeon who completed a fellowship in minimally invasive foregut and bariatric surgery. She has research interests in clinical outcomes and surgical quality. She is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.