Why the ASTRO Annual Meeting is more important, now, than ever
by Theodore DeWeese, MD, FASTRO, ASTRO Chair
ASTRO’s 2020 Annual Meeting theme, “Global Oncology: Radiation Therapy in a Changing World,” was chosen in mid-2019. Who could have imagined just how prescient the topic would be and how much the world would change since then?
This will be my 27th ASTRO Annual Meeting, and I am looking forward to it as much as I did, if not more, than my first year attending the meeting as a resident. I am especially enthusiastic about the immersive educational experiences the ASTRO staff and your professional colleagues have planned for you.
Last year in my Welcome Address article to our Chicago attendees, I wrote: “We all strive to transform science and improve care for patients on a daily basis, and the ability for our specialty to lead in these domains has never been greater. But, if we are to be highly successful, we cannot do these things in isolation.”
What a difference a year makes.
Who could have known that much of the world would be in isolation for a large portion of 2020? Yet, we have seen how reactive and responsive our field has been in this unprecedented time, which allowed us to quickly reengineer how we transform science and care for our patients. And our specialty’s ability to focus on patient health has truly never been greater, as we have seen through your unselfish and dedicated work caring for, and continuing treatment of, your patients during this public health emergency.
I went on to write that “working closely with our colleagues is important.” I would argue that this year it’s more important than ever. This year’s Annual Meeting will provide you with the opportunity to work closely, albeit virtually, with your colleagues from around the globe on the latest scientific advances. We already know that COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on cancer care for years to come, so the chance to learn from your peers in the global oncology community is especially important.
I also want to acknowledge and respond to all who have expressed your feelings about our pricing structure, both for members and residents. As Laura Thevenot shared in her blog post, the financial implications to a relatively small specialty association have been significant. Canceling the Miami meeting incurred tremendous costs. Our Annual Meeting is a primary revenue source for ASTRO and because we had to cancel the in-person meeting due to COVID-19 and the need to keep our communities safe, the organization absorbed the many monetary damages associated with canceling a city-wide annual meeting. The Board had to take extraordinary fiscal action inside ASTRO to keep our activities and member support services going. We know the Annual Meeting is the key educational activity of the year for many of our members and, thus, we as a Board decided to go “all in” on the best learning platform possible in order to keep our members engaged and educated and provide an experience that members would be willing to support. We also spoke with numerous department chairs and leaders about their support for their residents. Overwhelmingly, they noted that the savings from airfare, hotels and meals would allow them to support their resident’s attendance at our meeting. And to-date, we have seen strong registrations for our members-in-training. To ensure that as many as possible can attend, we are freezing the member-in-training and student rates at the early-bird level for the duration of the registration period. We also know that many people are still assessing their expenses for the year, so we are also extending our early-bird deadline for all attendees until September 8 to give you more time to secure your annual meeting attendance at the lowest rate.
Why register early?
- The meeting, customized for our specialty’s unique needs, includes all the educational and scientific programming you are accustomed to.
- In recognition of the financial impact our meeting cancellation will have on the Miami Beach area, ASTRO will donate a portion of all early-bird registration fees to two Florida cancer patient support organizations. We are happy to announce that the recipients are Caring Friends Cancer Support Group and Gilda's Club South Florida and we are pleased to show our support for their important work during this challenging time.
- All early-bird registrations will be recognized on our Patient Support Honor Roll, which will be unveiled during the Annual Meeting.
I am particularly excited about the internationally renowned Keynote speakers who will deliver remarks on timely topics including global health, COVID-19 and racial justice and equality. We are working on the final details of their presentations and will announce their names and the schedule soon. We also will have Storytelling, a new session that encourages you to share your experiences and interact with other attendees. The virtual poster hall offers a new feature ― author narration ― just one of this year’s virtual platform innovations designed to inspire and encourage you.
Not being able to meet in person is a disappointment, I concede. However, participating in this year’s ASTRO Annual Meeting offers you many opportunities that would not be possible in person, most notably that the content will be available to all registered attendees until November 30 to ensure access to all the presentations and materials. This year there are just as many ― if not more ― competing sessions, but you won’t have to miss any of them in this online format. There are more than 200 hours of CME credit opportunities — something that has never been possible before during a four-day meeting. We are also able to offer CAMPEP and ASRT credits. Additional new features include Master Classes on topics that include leadership, radiopharmaceuticals and the integration of medical marijuana into radiation oncology practice, and we are also bringing you more Cancer Breakthroughs sessions to showcase the top science from meetings that were postponed or held virtually, including ASCO, ESTRO and AAPM. The Cancer Breakthroughs session was added last year and was one of our highest evaluated sessions.
I truly am excited about the 2020 Annual Meeting and hope you are too. We know the importance that this meeting and the content presented provide in continuing your education and providing the latest science from the field. I invite you to check out the Meeting Highlights on the website and register now. We want you to take advantage of the best rates possible, so we’ve extended the early-bird registration through September 8 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time. Your participation is important to creating a collaborative experience and I look forward to “seeing” you at the meeting.
Posted: August 18, 2020
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By Laura Thevenot, ASTRO CEO
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that each ASTRO member has been impacted as you continue to provide world-class cancer treatment to your patients (and manage a host of new responsibilities like homeschooling children). Likewise, ASTRO has been impacted in many ways as we continue our work to provide high quality services to our members. As we launch registration for our virtual Annual Meeting on July 9, I want to explain how this meeting is coming about and why your participation is so important.
The ASTRO Annual Meeting is the primary income source for ASTRO, which is a 501(c)6 nonprofit. Unfortunately, ASTRO is not eligible to apply for any of the financial support available to many small businesses as a result of the pandemic. While membership dues produce roughly 15% of the organization’s overall budget, the Annual Meeting and income generated by the sponsorships, exhibitors and attendees is the revenue engine for ASTRO’s overall operations. This allows ASTRO to provide members with education and training for their practice, reimbursement and health policy expertise, advocacy work on Capitol Hill, clinical practice guidelines, safety resources and so much more.
Last year in anticipation that more than 11,000 radiation oncologists, residents, physicists and other health care professionals would descend on Miami in support of the Annual Meeting, ASTRO secured contracts with numerous entities including the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, 54 hotel properties, transportation service providers, audio/visual firms, and much more. While the ASTRO Board acted quickly to change course to a virtual Annual Meeting due to COVID-19, there are still many contracts and significant damages that we are contractually obligated to pay. We do hold event cancellation insurance, which will offset some of these expenses, but we are in line behind more than 170 other medical meetings that canceled before us.
With the cancellation of the in-person event and other revenue generators, ASTRO proactively looked to streamline day-to-day operations and adjust budgets. Like many of you, we suspended all business travel, cut professional development and other costs and implemented pay and benefit cuts for all staff in an effort to curtail spending given the extraordinary disruption and an uncertain future. We instituted these budget cuts to avoid staff layoffs and maintain our commitment to provide you with the support and educational content you need. For ASTRO to continue to play its role in supporting members, we also need to keep the ASTRO organization healthy and fiscally sound.
In an effort to produce an immersive and interactive virtual meeting, ASTRO then invested in an online platform that is being customized for our community’s unique needs, including networking and interview opportunities and an expansive exhibit hall. I promise you this will not be a hyped up Zoom call! This virtual meeting will be immersive and unlike anything you have ever experienced before. This transition to a virtual platform required us to negotiate and secure new contracts with a range of vendors including an online platform provider, videographers and audio technicians, digital designers to create online materials, support to produce trainings and onboarding for all presenters and exhibitors, and so much more. Everything we have done to produce this Annual Meeting was done to create a world-class, unforgettable learning experience for you.
We recognize that every member of the ASTRO community has been impacted in so many ways by the pandemic, including financially. Based on our COVID-19 practice survey, we know that your patient volumes have been negatively impacted and therefore you expect revenue declines this year. At the same time, we have seen the resilience of radiation oncology during the pandemic, and we marvel with pride in your ability to provide cancer patients with needed treatments and services without disruption. We also know that cancer doesn’t wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, and the need to get the latest science out to the global oncology community is more pressing than ever.
Because we understand that both your time and financial resources are precious, we are making the content available to all registered attendees for 30 days to allow you time to view materials at a pace that works best for you. One of the top complaints we get about our meeting is that there are too many competing sessions, so key content is missed, but not this year! This format and the 30-day window allow us to provide over 200 hours of CME credits — something that has never been possible, nor ever offered before during a four-day meeting. We hope that the financial savings from airfare, hotel and meals will make it possible for more members than ever to participate and learn at our Annual Meeting. In recognition of the fiscal impact our meeting cancellation will have on the Miami Beach area, a portion of all early-bird registration fees will be donated to two local cancer patient support organizations in the greater Miami area.
While everything is different for the 2020 Annual Meeting, we hope that our community will continue to gather to learn from each other, network and show our resilience as we continue to make our way through this unprecedented time. Thank you for all that you do for ASTRO and for your care and support of cancer patients.
Posted: July 2, 2020
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By Anna Lee, MD, MPH, and Valerie Powell, RT Patient
Social media provides a platform for people and organizations to share information, opinions and expertise. It also serves as a news source, a networking tool and a pivotal communications channel for millions of people around the world. As radiation oncology experts, it’s important that we share our voice and raise the profile of our field and one area of focus for ASTRO is social media. For this year’s Annual Meeting, ASTRO asked nine attendees to serve as Social Champions, including, for the first time, the voice of an RT patient. Here, two #ASTRO19 Social Champions share their experiences from the meeting.
Anna: Last year I created a Twitter account in preparation for ASTRO’s Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. While I participated in social media through Facebook and Instagram, these were primarily for personal use and I found the public platform of Twitter to be daunting. Why would people even care what I thought? What would be the purpose of having a professional account? These sentiments were alleviated after watching the social media webinar prior to Advocacy Day. I quickly learned different ways to increase visibility and how to use the platform to put my voice out there and get people’s attention.
Once I joined the #SoMe (social media) community, I was floored to see so many radiation oncologists on Twitter! I immediately felt welcomed and learned so much from discussions (some can be intense) and hot-off-the-press papers. I quickly developed new friendships that have crossed over #IRL (in real life) and have been offered opportunities to collaborate on projects including to be one of the nine #ASTRO19 Social Champions.
The #ASTRO19 meeting in Chicago this year was one of the busiest but most exciting I’ve attended. I felt more engaged because I wanted to synthesize information from the talks and share it on #SoMe. As a current trainee in proton therapy, I wanted to share my perspective as someone still early in her career and excited about the increased utilization of protons for our patients. Even though my task was to interact and engage through tweets, I met and spoke #IRL with so many dedicated ASTRO members. I came home exhausted but grateful to have had an enriched conference experience and to be part of a larger network that helped me to better understand both the field and the people in the field.
Valerie: I was giddy to get to Chicago. The opportunity to attend such an influential and informative conference with the opportunity to be an #ASTRO19 Social Champion and stand in for other RT patients was something I never imagined I would do. So, I assigned myself a few goals: Be present. Be professional. Be transparent. And, be myself.
As a non-clinician and former RT patient attending #ASTRO19 for the first time, my initial steps into the main ballroom made me nervous. My face had been promoted all over Twitter and was published throughout the convention center. Whether anyone recognized me or not was one thing, but the idea of potentially being way out of my realm of understanding was a whole different thing.
I arranged my conference schedule to include topics I was interested in but also topics that I had some familiarity with. While I am not clinical in my marketing and communications work at University of Alabama, Birmingham’s (UAB) radiation oncology department, I tend to poke my head in as many different areas of our department that I am allowed. Of course, going through treatment for head and neck cancer in 2017 taught me quite a bit about radiation oncology too.
During each #ASTRO19 session I attended, I kept the overall topic in mind and listened closely. If something struck a particular chord in me, I quickly wrote it into my phone and gave myself a few seconds to process why it impacted me. Sometimes it came from a past experience. Other times it might have come from clinical perspective that I learned while working in research at UAB and more recently in marketing and communications.
At that point, I had to make a decision about how what I had to say was going to come across to a very practical and data-driven audience. It was crucial for me to stay relevant in this venue and provide quick and valid thoughts or I would inevitably fall behind the other Social Champions.
Overall, being a Social Champion definitely gave me a feeling of inclusiveness, especially coming in as a total outsider and not knowing what to expect. I came with purpose and a story and ASTRO gave me a platform to share those things and hopefully improve care for future patients being treated with radiation therapy.
Even though the Annual Meeting is behind us, there are many opportunities to use social media in radiation oncology. If you are not currently on social media, you can start with a Twitter account. There’s an easy how-to video on ASTRO.org. If you don’t want to start posting right away, you can follow the conversations until something strikes your interest.
Anna Lee, MD, MPH, graduated from residency at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and is currently completing a one-year proton therapy fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Valerie Powell is a radiation oncology marketing professional at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a previous head and neck cancer patient. She is married to her husband of five years, K.T. Powell, and they have two dogs, Fox and Stella.
Posted: October 30, 2019
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