RESIDENTS & FELLOWS COMMITTEE: Return of In-Person Meetings: A Resident's Perspective
By: Daniel A. Igel, MD | Posted on: 01 Feb 2022
The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected every facet of society, and professional organization meetings are no exception. With meeting participants gathering from around the country and around the world to exchange ideas and innovations, it is only natural that an exchange of germs could follow. Indeed, one of the earliest and most publicized COVID-19 outbreaks was connected to such a meeting, when, after a biotechnology conference in Boston in February 2020, over 100 people were sickened with COVID-19, and the chain of transmission this started was linked to more than 300,000 infections by the end of the year.1 Thus, in-person professional society meetings were one of the first things to be halted in the pandemic, and there has been substantial trepidation related to their return.
While the pandemic has exacted a massive human cost and has had unprecedented economic impacts, its silver lining is that it has led to the development and expansion of numerous innovative digital platforms to facilitate virtual collaboration and socialization. These platforms allowed for a transition from in-person to virtual meetings, which maintained much of the core academic and educational content. The recent all-virtual AUA2021 meeting is a notable example.
However, these virtual meetings are often lacking in formal and informal networking opportunities. These social and networking elements are particularly crucial for residents, for whom these events facilitate making connections that can be critical in securing a job or fellowship. Additionally, from a resident wellness perspective, these meetings also offer a rare opportunity to gather and socialize with co-residents and residents from other programs, building camaraderie and helping foster career and lifelong friendships.
Now, nearly 2 years into the pandemic, a number of successful vaccines and public health measures have helped turn the tide on COVID-19, permitting incremental transition back to normalcy. Urological professional organizations such as the AUA and its regional sections; the Society of Urodynamics, Female Pelvic Medicine and Urogenital Reconstruction; World Congress of Endourology; Society of Women in Urology; and the Society of Urologic Oncology are starting to cautiously plan and execute in-person meetings again.
The AUA South Central Section (SCS) recently held its 100th meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, which marked the first in-person urology meeting since the start of the pandemic. While there was some degree of uncertainty regarding the risks of hosting a meeting in the era of COVID-19, studies have been conducted of experimental indoor mass gathering events, which have demonstrated that such events can be safely executed in a properly ventilated facility with appropriate measures such as mask wearing and testing or vaccination.2 The SCS meeting adopted many of these safety measures, including mandatory vaccination, indoor masks, and primarily outdoor networking and social events.
Participants from across the nation attended the SCS meeting, and there was even attendance from an international delegation from Mexico. Thanks to technology honed during the pandemic, speakers who were unable to attend in person were able to virtually participate in the meeting, an innovation that is here to stay.
Although there were extensive educational opportunities available at the SCS meeting, it was the informal, in-person interactions that made the meeting exceptional and refreshing in the post-COVID-19 era. Thanks to the safety measures mentioned above, we are not aware of any ill effects from the meeting.
While there will certainly be a place for virtual meetings and collaboration going forward, it is clear that in-person meetings have substantial advantages, and their return will be of great benefit to our field, particularly its trainees.
- LeMieux JE, Siddle KJ, Macinnis BL et al: Phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in Boston highlights the impact of superspreading events. Science 2021; 371: 6529
- Moritz S, Gottshick C, Horn J et al: The risk of indoor sports and culture events for the transmission of COVID-19. Nat Commun 2021; 12: 5096