After being virtual-only last year, the 2022 AAP National Conference brought out thousands of excited and energetic attendees to Anaheim, CA to learn from each other, reconnect, and reclaim their joy. Doximity spoke with Dr. Cassandra Pruitt, chair of the AAP National Conference Planning Group, to learn more about the event and share some key takeaways. Dr. Pruitt has served on the planning group for four years.
The Path to Pediatrics and How It’s Changing
Dr. Pruitt, like many of her colleagues, knew she wanted to work in pediatrics from the time she entered medical school. Pediatrics excites her because she gets to see a wide variety of patients from babies to young adults. However, she also acknowledged that the field is changing.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Pruitt was seeing more and more patients for mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression. This year’s conference included many sessions on mental health to educate pediatric practitioners, from a plenary talk by a first-year nephrology fellow who lives with bipolar disorder, to educational sessions on practical strategies to address and manage mental health concerns in primary and specialty care settings.
Dr. Pruitt is also the associate pediatric residency program director at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. In that role, she believes more focus should be put on training new residents in treating mental health issues moving forward. “The reality is that there are not enough psychiatrists to manage the volume of mental health needs in the pediatric population,” she said. “Pediatricians will need to be equipped with the tools to manage patients, including those that are more complicated, while they await higher levels of services.”
Reclaiming Your Joy
Recent research has found that the COVID-19 pandemic increased emotional exhaustion among U.S. health care workers. Dr. Pruitt experienced this herself and therefore advocated to have sessions to address emotional exhaustion at the conference.
For the keynote address, the planning group invited Ryan Leak, a coach, consultant, and pastor to speak. This talk was well-received and attended by many, both in-person and through a live stream, which was a new approach this year. Dr. Pruitt shared that thousands tuned in through the live stream to watch this talk, which focused on empowering physicians to learn about the art of self-care so that they can better serve their patients and families. “We wanted pediatricians to remember why they chose this work and reclaim their joy,” she said.
Advocacy in Action
It was hard to miss the hats, pins, and shirts that read “Vote Kids” at the conference this year. Vote Kids is AAP’s nonpartisan campaign to encourage pediatricians to get out and use their vote to shape policies that directly impact the health of children, families, and communities. Dr. Pruitt further described the program: “Vote Kids also provides tools and resources for pediatricians that want to educate their patients and families about the importance of registering to vote and casting their ballots.”
With issues like reproductive health and gender-affirming care at the forefront in pediatrics in 2022, Dr. Pruitt said the presence of Vote Kids was “a reminder that we all can make a difference and have power in our vote.”
The conference also included sessions on how pediatricians can use their voice to influence legislators, such as a session on how to stand up for gender-affirming care in the statehouse, courts, and places of employment. With next year’s conference taking place in Washington, D.C., Dr. Pruitt shared that there will likely be even more sessions and events related to health policy.
Hot Topics and Key Takeaways
Considering the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, sessions related to the disease seemed to be popular with attendees. Still, other acute respiratory illnesses are also on the rise. One session that stuck out to Dr. Pruitt personally centered on recognizing and managing infectious diseases. This talk was case-based and included information on updates to the AAP Red Book such as adding chapters on COVID-19 and monkeypox. The session also highlighted the concerns that experts have regarding the upcoming influenza season and the need to get all children vaccinated to much higher levels than was observed in the 2021-2022 season.
Dr. Pruitt’s key takeaways from the conference were twofold: reconnecting and reclaiming your joy. “It was clear that everyone was ready to be back together and reconnect,” she said. “The energy was palpable! As a chair, that was so incredible to experience after two long years away.” The conference served as a place to reconnect with colleagues, friends, mentors, and classmates.
Dr. Pruitt spoke highly of the way the venue was set up to allow people to connect. Before entering the convention hall, attendees were greeted by a plaza with food trucks, music, and a beautiful fountain. It helped that the weather was perfect for spending time outdoors. The entry plaza served as a central meeting place during the conference, where Dr. Pruitt’s second takeaway was evident among the smiling faces of attendees — reclaiming joy.
“Something magical happened here [at AAP 2022]. We are all better for it and will return to our respective practices with a renewed sense of purpose," Dr. Pruitt said. "I, for one, will never forget it.”
Photo by Vincent Myers