The Adaptation of Virtual Learning Platforms for Scientific Sessions: A Change Worth Keeping!

It was Sunday, February 23rd when I boarded my first and last flights of 2020. It was one of those very rare trips where you’re roundtrip would be within 12 hours.  Destination: Cardiovascular Research Technologies 2020 meeting in National Harbor, Maryland.  Why only a one-day trip? It was all I could swing with my clinical schedule, professional and personal commitments.  To be honest, I felt grateful that the requested speaking engagement was on a Sunday relief that saying “yes!” to a meeting wouldn’t disrupt my patient care schedule.  Within the span of 7 hours that Sunday, I reviewed my presentation in the Speaker Ready Room, connected with the moderators and other interventional cardiologists on the panel, presented a lecture, reunited unexpectedly with colleagues and mentors, and sat for an interview about my participation.  My last encounter was an impromptu meeting with a mentee which began in person and completed by phone as I rushed to catch my flight home to New Jersey just in time for the workweek to begin.  The types of jaunts surely sound familiar to many of you.  This was the way of many professional cardiologists committed to advancing science, spreading awareness of evidence-based therapies,  creating forums for advocacy and networking across of the spectrum of cardiovascular societies and national meetings. This was a commitment we all embraced regardless of the sacrifices.  And then, weeks later, the world fundamentally changed.

As coronavirus began to spread worldwide in March 2020, our nation changed dramatically with fear of an invisible enemy – the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our lives as physicians, personally and professionally.  Impressively, national societies adapted to an unprecedented time rapidly – the commitment to bridge practice-changing, ground-breaking science to physician offices globally remained its primary mission.  Therein birthed the onset of virtual meetings with physicians worldwide participating and engaging in science virtually.  As I reflect on my personal experience attending the virtual American Heart Association’s 2020 Scientific Sessions highlights was such a stark contrast to the moment I described earlier in February.

Going into this year’s scientific session, it was clear that this year would look and feel completely different.  What was less obvious, however, was the positive impact a virtual meeting had on my learning, engagement, and participation.  Despite many technological advancements to facilitate virtual learning, transitioning to this model to create a well-rounded experience necessitated thoughtful consideration of the right ways to optimize learning.  While the experience of listening to lectures and symposiums may be easily replicated virtually, the essence of conferences is the moments to engage with colleagues and peers on late breaking research as well as discuss professional challenges.  I was particularly impressed with how AHA facilitated fireside chats on Zoom alongside sessions both live and on-demand.  The discussion was dynamics – covering a wide array of topics regarding social injustice in healthcare, imposter syndrome, early career advice, and debates in dual-antiplatelet therapy  It enabled active participation, optimized learning, and allowed me to consume more content than ever before.    A hybrid model can achieve clear cost savings, minimize travel while also maintaining an ideal learning environment to advance evidence-based medicine. By striking this balance, I am optimistic about a future that leverages a hybrid virtual and physical format.

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