You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages. – Michelle Obama
This commentary was supposed to open very similarly to last year’s, which began “having attended the 2019 Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) annual meeting this past week at McCormick Place in Chicago — still the largest medical meeting in the world, held in the largest convention center in the world…” That would have been the case in an alternate universe. Unfortunately, of course, this is not the case in the actual 2020.
So, the largest medical meeting in the world became, due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the largest virtual medical meeting in the world. Featured programming expanded from six to seven days. Thousands of submitted videos, from radiology and other trainees, radiology attendings, medical physicists and other radiology researchers, radiology administrators, radiologic technologists, and other health care professionals, were assembled, organized, arranged, and presented by RSNA staff online, both live, as well as on-demand. Thousands of scientific papers, and scientific and educational posters, were presented virtually. Committee meetings still happened, albeit with Zoom, WebEx, and other similar platforms, before, during, and (shortly soon) after the meeting. Meetings of other innumerable groups and societies, which normally occurred within the meeting throughout McCormick Place and in numerous venues throughout Chicago, also happened online.
Most of us are already used to the new normal, which is not at all normal but is much better than having no meeting. We still earned our CME this week (more important than ever, since there have been, essentially, no in-person meetings), presented our research and educational content, earned poster awards, and convened with our colleagues. Albeit this year, it was remotely, from our home offices, our work offices, our bedrooms, our bathrooms, our backyards, or anywhere else we have internet access. Kudos to the RSNA board and staff for pulling this off without a lot of notice, seemingly seamlessly. Yes, as I noted last year, the virtual meeting has expanded steadily for the past few years, but this is a rather different animal.
As an academic (but practical!) radiologist, the RSNA annual meeting, for innumerable reasons, is the highlight of my academic year, and I’ve been attending, essentially continuously, for nearly the past 30 years. I miss, in particular, the direct interaction with colleagues, the networking and future collaborating, the catching up, the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and happy hours, the events, the schmoozing, and, most importantly, the opportunities to learn in person from live humans who represent the best and brightest of our specialty. But all was not lost.
A few brief observations on the meeting so far, which is finishing up this Saturday:
- Preliminary data on “attendance” by radiologists is actually somewhat greater than in previous recent years. It is certainly easier to watch sessions at one’s convenience, now or in the near future, without having to travel and dedicate several days or an entire week to attending the RSNA annual meeting in person. Instead of one focused week of education and research, the opportunities to learn from this humongous (or ‘ginormous’) conglomeration of content in the next few months are nearly limitless. Undoubtedly, even when the live meeting resumes, hopefully in the near future, the virtual component will take on further importance.
- One of my own sessions received some great live comments (which, as speakers and moderators, we answered in real-time). I also received multiple texts and emails from current and former residents, colleagues, and friends throughout the U.S. immediately after this session, with some of these individuals coming out of the electronic woodwork for the first time in years. Re-establishing connections and reaching out is more important than ever.
- No surprise, discussions on COVID-19 predominated in numerous sessions, as it should have. But the meeting was not all about COVID-19; many other topics were covered. Hundreds of sessions — educational and scientific — were available for viewing and learning. As overwhelming as the in-person RSNA annual meeting is, this can be even more overwhelming than ever; where does one start, even as an academic subspecialist?
- It was great to see numerous junior and relatively junior faculty participate, many for the first time. Many names and folks I did not recognize, and that’s a good thing. New participants are the lifeblood of the annual meeting and the RSNA, as with all organizations.
- There were outstanding focused sessions on burnout, wellness, and work-life balance, just to name a few, highly relevant topics. There were even virtual opportunities during the meeting to participate in activities, take a break, and promote wellness in the attendees. There was a virtual fun run. And one could even set up one-on-one personal virtual meetings through the RSNA meeting system.
When I whined and complained, here we go, another virtual meeting, this is the sixth or so in the past eight months I’ve contributed to, my wife quickly shut me up. She would remind me, "Be thankful you are healthy and think about all those people in the U.S. and around the globe who have suffered, who have lost their lives, and their families and friends left to pick up the pieces. Yes, we know or have known a small number of those who have been affected by this unthinkable pandemic. You should contribute to these meetings and help others, teach others, and continue your work from home."
Finally, a quick shout out to my friend, Dr. Jeffrey Klein, retiring editor of the RSNA’s education journal RadioGraphics. We were supposed to celebrate the end of his reign and his ongoing role on the RSNA Board of Directors at our favorite Saturday night dinner spot in Chicago, Coco Pazzo, and many others were going to celebrate his contributions in person as well. That dinner – and a promised bottle of Chateau d’Yquem – will have to wait. But on Saturday, I’ll give a remote toast to Jeff – so well deserved (while watching a final ‘live’ refresher course, possibly from my hot tub)! And a shout out to Dr. Christine “Cooky” Menias, who is taking over the helm – best wishes, and all your friends and colleagues will help you continue the successful mission of the journal and the RSNA.
We should all count our blessings, and we should all hope that we can meet again in 2021 or 2022 (or both), live and in the flesh, at McCormick Place in Chicago, for the RSNA annual meeting. The RSNA, McCormick Place, and Chicago will all be awaiting our return, with open arms (but, perhaps, still with masks on).
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