Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM) was held in San Diego after being canceled in 2020, shifted to a virtual meeting, and then delayed two months from June to August 2021. The four-day event launched a year-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of the SVS. The enthusiasm for an in-person meeting was palpable from the opening ceremony until the chairs and tables from the last session had been put away. It was easy to visualize the huge smiles beneath protective masks, which are now staple (and divisive) components of our existence. The efficiency and smoothness of the ceremonies, scientific offerings, and social gatherings belied the intense and careful preparations the meeting organizers dedicated to our flagship society’s first in-person meeting since the pandemic’s onset.
New components of in-person meetings derived from the current public health crisis were evident. One such example included mandatory proof of vaccination for attendance. Alternatively, proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours was an acceptable substitute, and testing was available to accommodate the latter pathway.
Those who were vaccinated could optionally wear a mask, although many of us who have been vaccinated demonstrated our commitment to the safety of our colleagues by masking during the meeting. Hand sanitizer was ever-present, and all of the convention center employees adhered to current safety protocols to protect attendees. A perfect example of the commitment to safety was an email distributed to all attendees on the second day, notifying us of a participant who took a rapid test after developing symptoms. The positive test resulted in immediate self-quarantining. Details shared with all included which meetings the infected individual attended, so everyone could more closely self-monitor and test if they desired. Confidence in the vaccine and conference safety protocols prevented this positive event from becoming a negative one.
In another historic first, to connect with those who could not attend the meeting, the SVS live-streamed over two dozen sessions so colleagues across the world could tune in and experience the Live VAM Broadcasts.
Equally notable were the two presidential addresses, an event that has only occurred once previously. Addressing different topics, Dr. Kim Hogsdon and Dr. Ron Dalman each challenged the SVS members with calls for action.
Dr. Hodgson, the 2020 President, congratulated the overwhelming majority of physicians who were providing quality care in the vascular space. He did not hold back in imploring the small minority of providers who may be prioritizing business opportunity over what is best for evidence-based patient care to cease this and double-down on quality. This springboarded the announcement of the new ACS/SVS Vascular Center Verification program and the completion of the first SVS AUC module for which claudication was chosen.
During a year in which social injustice and implicit bias dominated our country’s consciousness, the 2021 President, Dr. Dalman, embraced the opportunity to peel back the painful onion layers and describe our specialty and society's past shortcomings and failures. The uncomfortable admissions were essential as he was able to show us where our specialty is improving in regards to gender but still failing miserably in regards to the recruitment of underrepresented minorities such as Black and Hispanic vascular surgeons. The challenge is clear. There is a mismatch in what vascular surgeons look like, what our patients look like, and how we are tasked with correcting this. Challenge accepted!
After 18 months of disruption, death, mayhem, chaos, misery, and fatigue, we finally had our twice-delayed national meeting in person. This was a perfect time and setting for pats on the back, encouraging words, commiseration, and feel-good warm and fuzzy presidential addresses. Instead, we were confronted with uncomfortable and thought-provoking topics by our outgoing presidents.
After both speeches meant to challenge us, I looked around the room and found another similarity: everyone was standing. They were not standing to leave but rather to applaud loudly and vigorously. I am grateful for this message, this challenge, and this renewed opportunity.
Thank you SVS for showing us we can have in-person meetings. After this week it is evident that virtual meetings are no substitute for the in-person experience. See you all in Boston in 2022!
Dr. Shutze is employed by Texas Vascular Associates and has no conflicts of interest to disclose.