Report from Theodore L. DeWeese, MD, FASTRO
It is hard to look back at all the exciting annual meeting format changes we implemented last year in Chicago at the Annual Meeting and the optimism we felt. It is been an incredibly challenging year to be a physician, a leader and most importantly a family member. It is my hope that each of you and your families have remained safe through this unprecedented time for our country and the world.
I am so proud of the ASTRO Board of Directors, committee leaders and committee members who have continued doing the work of the Society. I am also proud of the ASTRO staff who, facing many challenges and stress, have not only persevered but have shined during this difficult time.
Early in the spring, the ASTRO staff began developing scenarios, best and worse-case models, to help us understand the potential impact of the pandemic on the Society. The impact will be substantial as a large part of our revenue comes from the Annual Meeting. Pivoting early to an all virtual meeting helped the staff plan and implement what I know will be a world class Annual Meeting. I believe our 2021 Annual Meeting will go ahead as planned in Chicago but suspect the impact of the pandemic will be felt for several years with respect to travel and meeting attendance as well as our personal activities.
As I said, the Board met early on and reviewed and approved staff recommendations to reduce expenses including salary cuts and reductions in many on-going activities. Luckily, ASTRO has been able to build a significant reserve which will help us weather this storm. We also hold cancellation insurance for our Annual Meeting with a pandemic rider, so we are hopeful that we will be able to offset some of our losses with an insurance claim.
The most important thing we have been able to do is provide the needed resources to our members to help them withstand some of the challenges each of you have faced. Ninety-two percent of Active members have renewed their membership which I believe speaks to the strength of our Society. More than a decade ago, the membership voted on a cost of living dues adjustment that is implemented every three years. That dues increase was scheduled to take effect in 2021 and would have been reflected in the dues statement you will receive in December. With the financial challenges and uncertainty you are facing, the Board voted to delay the dues increase for a year.
ASTRO staff and volunteers have been working diligently on guidelines, RO-ILS incident reviews, updated patient brochures and materials and advocating to secure funding for you in the CARES Act that passed earlier this year. In addition, our health policy team has been working around the clock to understand the implications of the Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Model. Our industry fellowships with Varian and AstraZeneca have been very successful and we are looking at expanding this program to broaden the reach of our research and knowledge with our corporate partners.
With respect to in-person meetings, we have already decided to convert our Spring 2021 Refresher Course to be a virtual meeting. We had been scheduled to hold our Multidisciplinary Thoracic Meeting late in 2020; we worked with the Steering Committee made up of all the sponsoring societies to delay the meeting until late 2021. We had to cancel our 2020 Advocacy Day and will probably need to cancel our in person Advocacy Day in 2021, but are planning a virtual fly-in so you can weigh in with your member of Congress on the many issues in the Alternative Payment Model.
Beyond our Society and its activities, the country is facing many issues surrounding systemic racism. The ASTRO Board is actively working with the leaders of our Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee to address ways we can make the field more attractive to Black and other underrepresented in medicine students and to increase the number of these candidates we are able to recruit to our training programs. We are also working to be sure our structure, committees and councils allow for the full engagement with all of our members, including those historically underrepresented in our field, in order to make meaningful, lasting progress that impacts academia and community practices alike. Ultimately, these efforts will improve the care of all of our patients and reduce the health inequities that exist.
While it has been a long and challenging year it has been my honor and privilege to serve as Chair of ASTRO. I have never been prouder of our members and staff and the dedication each has shown to achieving our mission to improve the lives of patients with cancer.