With Gratitude, Reflections on the AAO-HNSF 2022 Annual Meeting & OTO Experience
Like many important life events, what I’ll take away from Philly are powerful singular moments, either of inspiration or reunion.
Daniel C. Chelius, Jr., MD, Annual Meeting Program Coordinator
I really still can’t believe it’s over. Between the meeting faculty, the scientific presenters, the Annual Meeting Program Committee members, the AAO-HNS/F staff, the sponsors and vendors, the legion of Philadelphia labor union workers, the SIM Tank and ENTrepreneur Faceoff coordinators, the committee chairs, the section leaders and so many others, tens of thousands of hours of preparation and execution went into the Annual Meeting. The result was a spectacular education program, an innovative technology showcase, an inspiring set of conversations about who we are and where we are going as a community, and a long overdue and much-needed reunion in the heart of Philadelphia this September. Although there are always bumps along the way and lessons learned with every iteration of a meeting this large and complex, the overwhelming feeling I took home from Philadelphia is that we are back, and we are stronger than ever.
At the time of this writing, we are still analyzing final registration data. I expect total attendance will be just over 6,000 with professional attendance well over 4,000. This is far more than either the virtual meeting of 2020 or the hybrid Los Angeles meeting in 2021, and I believe we will see that the final domestic professional attendance approached and even exceeded many if not most of the meetings of the past decade. We know that the international community is still facing significant pandemic-related economic limitations, and some of our most engaged international faculty members were unable to secure travel visas despite Academy communications. However, we were still ecstatic to welcome almost 800 international colleagues to Philadelphia. The preliminary registration figure that gives me the most optimism for our Academy’s future is that over 1,100 medical students, residents, and fellows joined us in Philly. They brought fresh ideas and enthusiastic questions to the Board of Governors and AAO-HNS Mentorship Program joint Medical Student Forum Saturday afternoon and to the Sections’ meetings on Sunday, and they were a prominent and engaged cohort in each of the events I attended throughout the meeting.
When the Annual Meeting Program Committee selected this year’s education program, we sought to balance the duty of protecting the core knowledge base of our field, presented year after year since the meetings of the early 20th Century, with the equally important need to create space for innovative discussion and thought leadership to drive us forward. With the goal in mind to leverage community and conversation, we were thrilled to see enthusiastic engagement at the Second Annual Great Debates, the inaugural Business Solutions for Breakfast with the Private Practice Study Group, the revamped Luncheons with the Clinical Experts, and the inaugural subspecialty Office Hours.
Like many important life events, what I’ll take away from Philly are powerful singular moments, either of inspiration or reunion. I won’t forget the joy I felt at the first sight of cherished friends I haven’t seen in years due to the pandemic. I won’t forget the new and deep respect I found for one of our key industry partners who shared at the Women in Otolaryngology General Assembly that they’ve achieved 100% gender pay equity in the United States and 99% gender pay equity globally. I won’t forget the hope I felt for my kids and their peers during a chance encounter in the Poster Hall with a poised medical student advocate for gender-affirming healthcare.
In some ways, however, what I may take away most from Philadelphia 2022 was an inspiring absence. Earlier this year, I traveled to Oklahoma City to join a huge community, including many faculty, trainees, and alumni from the University of Oklahoma Department of Otolaryngology, as we mourned and celebrated the life of one of my dearest friends, Dr. Colby McLaurin. Colby and I met as freshman at Rice University, grew in friendship as leaders in our faith communities, and found our lives on many parallel paths for 25 years. We were in each other’s weddings, and we discussed a lot of life decisions along the way. I wound up finishing med school a few years ahead of Colby. We independently picked otolaryngology after one of us initially lovingly reprimanded the other for picking a charming and infatuating field just because we had the grades to do it. Colby recanted that remark, but it still makes me smile. Coming toward the end of residency, we became dads within a week of each other and saw our families grow. In 2011 Colby was diagnosed with an aggressive astrocytoma. After treatment both at the University of California San Francisco and in Oklahoma City, and with incredible support from the otolaryngology community, he was able to resume practice and spent the next decade serving the patients at the Oklahoma City VA and training a generation of residents and medical students until his cancer returned. A man of deep faith with a constant grin in his eyes, Colby exuded joy in his all of his communities.
Over the past 10 years, Colby and I shared many hours together at the Annual Meeting. For two friends living busy lives far apart, the meeting was often a retreat of sorts where we could reconnect, encourage, and challenge each other, and frankly goof off. Colby held me to my priorities and helped me continue to develop into the doctor, dad, and spouse I aspire to be. In my first Bulletin article as Annual Meeting Coordinator, I wrote that, “In the space between us, we carry the living memory of our field— of the mentors, patients, leaders, and events that shaped our individual and collective approach to patient care, to science, to advocacy, and to self-definition.” May those memories continue to inspire us and the house of otolaryngology.
With gratitude for many years of the Annual Meeting, especially for Philly, I hope to see you for another joyful reunion in Nashville next October.