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.