In-person interactions enrich and eventually improve the outcomes that we are able to provide to our trainees, and thus to patients and the field of oncology.
It's a time for reflecting from an academic and educational standpoint in the field of oncology and translational and clinical research. I recently attended 2 meetings, the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) and the 6th Annual International Congress on Immunotherapies in Cancer®: Focus on Practice-Changing Application, sponsored by Physicians’ Education Resource® (PER®).
SITC was held at the Washington, DC, convention center and the PER® meeting was held in New York City. In my view, as an attendee and invited speaker, both meetings were a success. A wonderful series of presentations was accompanied by the usual and enjoyable human interaction between colleagues and friends. The scientific presentations were focused on new cellular therapies and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) cells using T cells and NK cells. We remembered the giants of immunotherapy, Thomas A. Waldmann, MD, and Martin “Mac” Cheever, MD, who had passed somewhat unexpectedly in the previous months. Crystal L. Mackall, MD, received the Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award and Lectureship.
I point out these details to indicate how important human interaction is to cancer research and treatment. But a whole generation of trainees has been missing someone walking by their poster or listening to their presentation and providing key feedback that they would never get without an in-person meeting.
The PER® immunotherapy meeting was focused on immuno-oncology advances across multiple cancers and was led by Drs Mario Sznol and Charu Aggarwal. I learned a great deal from the faculty and also from the attendees who posed questions from the floor microphones.
A number of attendees participated virtually, and I give great credit to the IT groups of both meeting organizers for the accommodations to expand participation in the hybrid portion of the meetings. However, I believe those attendees who have participated virtually in the past, myself included, are still missing something. What about our colleagues who may think that it is cheaper and easier to stay in Europe or Asia or even on the other side of our vast United States and open up a browser window to hear a single talk, as opposed to seeing an old friend, developing a new collaboration, or networking to advance their own or one of their mentees’ careers?
I really hope that we de-emphasize and, possibly, maintain some hybridformat conferences but offer, perhaps, a discount or some enticement to those who attend in person. These in-person interactions enrich and eventually improve the outcomes that we are able to provide to our trainees, and thus to patients and the field of oncology.