The 2020 Society for Urologic Oncology (SUO) Annual Meeting was a uniquely refreshing meeting in the era of post-COVID virtual conferences. Contrasting the typical SUO meeting characterized by dark suits and serious conversations, the virtual SUO meeting was light, informative, and progressive. While major oncologic themes, emerging data and concepts were discussed — a major highlight for this attendee was a focus on “bettering” the field through discussions of wellbeing, mentorship, and women in urologic oncology. There will be many articles and social media posts regarding the “scientific” outcomes from this meeting, instead I will focus on what made this experience uniquely great!
The meeting started with the SUO Young Urologic Oncologists (YUO) program as a prelude to the meeting. Dr. Taylor Riall, a hepatobiliary surgeon from the University of Arizona, addressed the SUO YUO, giving insights into an intentional culture of well-being and coaching to foster the development of a successful surgical department and individuals within that department. This was followed, on Day One of the formal meeting, by the inaugural Joseph A. Smith, Jr. Award for Mentorship in Urologic Oncology to its namesake, Dr. Joseph A. Smith, Jr. from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Smith gave a heartfelt, genuine history of his mentors and mentees – telling personal stories of his interactions with Willet F. Whitmore and others in the field. Early in his lecture, Dr. Smith acknowledged that early in his life, the personality of many physicians turned him away from medicine. But despite those poor interactions, he created and lived what an ideal physician should embody — giving empathy and care for others through service and mentorship. Both Drs. Riall and Smith provide firm examples to the SUO community that we are not destined to live the history of predecessors or a culture of stress and burnout. Both gave shining examples that service, wellness, and mentorship were pathways for happy and healthy careers as surgical oncologists.
The strength of women and women in urologic oncology was another clear message of this year’s SUO Meeting. Dr. Eila Skinner, chair of the Department of Urology at Stanford University, was awarded the Huggins Medal in recognition of major contributions and lifetime achievement in the field. Dr. Skinner is the first woman to be awarded the Huggins Medal since its inception in 2001. Instead of focusing on her accomplishments in bladder cancer and urinary diversion, Dr. Skinner focused on the progress of women in urologic oncology – acknowledging the tremendous strides, but the continued disparities in the percentage of women, pay gap, grant funding, and promotions when compared to men in the field. As part of Dr. Skinner’s talk, she highlighted the up-and-coming female leaders of the field and Women in Urologic Oncology (WUO) group – who also met virtually this year! The WUO was represented strongly in the bladder and upper tract urothelial cancer session, where a panel entirely of women urologic oncologists [Sima Porten, MD (UCSF), Sumeet Bhandavia, MD (USC), Janet Kukreja, MD, MPH (Univ. of Colorado), Katie Murray, DO, MS, FACS (Univ. of Missouri), and Sarah Psutka, MD, MS (Univ. of Washington)] led the case-based discussion of high-risk non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. While unrelated to the meeting but announced during the week, Dr. Stacey Loeb, MD (NYU) was awarded the American Urological Association Gold Cystoscope for outstanding contributions within 10 years of graduating residency for her work in prostate cancer. In all, an exceptional few days highlighting the tremendous accomplishments of our female colleagues in the field and providing inspiration for more great things to come!
The leadership of the SUO and organizers of the meeting should be applauded for their thoughtful and thorough approach to the SUO 2020 Virtual Meeting. Major cancer themes were covered. Residents, fellows, and colleagues presented their work in an engaging fashion despite the remote nature of the meeting. (All presentations can be found through the SUO website (with registration) and highlights can be found on most social media channels.) Most importantly, the meeting gave a hopeful message of well-being, mentorship, and progress – greatly needed and appreciated during these challenging times!