AAPA 2021 certainly provided a different feel given the virtual nature of the conference. As a conference attendee, speaker, and House of Delegates delegate, there were unique perspectives noted in each role. As a delegate, the House is as much a social gathering as a business meeting, as for many of us it is the only time we see each other, given the busy nature of life and PA practice. This was glaringly absent and palpably missed. There were technical challenges with trying to coordinate hundreds of PAs across the country but the AAPA staff did an amazing job and the hiccups were minimal. The debate and discussion took on a less vibrant role in the virtual environment, and given the contentious nature of some of the resolutions, this may have been a good thing! Thankfully the compromise and word smithing persisted despite the virtual environment, with the result being the passage and amending of some very important resolutions and policy papers, many of which will guide PA practice moving forward.
As a speaker, the challenges were different. This is not the first virtual format I have presented in, given the challenges faced due to COVID-19. In the virtual arena, it is challenging to know when you’ve lost your audience as there is no interaction to guide and allow for connection. In other virtual forums I still presented live, but over a platform such as Zoom. For AAPA, it was a pre-recorded session to be placed in the on-demand library. This afforded the unique opportunity of redoing the lecture until is was “right,” while presenting the challenge of learning how to use the record feature in PowerPoint. There’s a record function in PowerPoint? Yes! I too wasn’t aware this feature existed until the conference transitioned to virtual. It’s easy to use and really effective but I prefer to see my audience and feel their energy, so I am very much looking forward to returning to AAPA 2022 in Indianapolis, if I am again afforded the privilege of presenting.
As an attendee, I have more mixed feelings. The social interaction and live events such as the student challenge bowl, keynote address, and poster presentations were very much absent and missed. They were held, but are not the same in the virtual environment, as these events really rely on human interaction to be successful. The ability to engage with product vendors and pharmaceutical reps wasn’t the same either, despite a well-organized product gallery. Attending desired sessions on my time and at home was a benefit, as the on demand format allowed for participation in concurrent sessions that the live format does not. The uniqueness of the virtual format allows the attendee the flexibility of participating in more sessions than the live format, a bonus, but doesn’t allow for interaction with the presenters nor the ability to ask questions and seek clarification, a downfall.
Given the need to change the format and the timeframe allowed, AAPA did a good job with the transition and the navigability of the website. The quality and variety of the sessions were consistent with those of a live conference but personally I would rather attend the conference in person, engage with my colleagues, and return home with new knowledge and memories.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz