Imagine navigating through a crowd of 25,000 oncology professionals in the largest conference center in the United States. In this environment, it is easy for even the most seasoned oncologist to feel overwhelmed. Plenary sessions, exhibit halls, late-breaking abstracts, and poster discussions…where to begin? For first-time attendees of a large medical conference, excitement and enthusiasm can quickly fade to exhaustion and attention deficit when confronted with such a staggering number of choices. A significant commitment of time, energy, and money is required to attend a large oncology conference. Furthermore, we are becoming aware of the potentially negative environmental impact of such meetings. Therefore, it is essential to create a plan to ensure that the medical conference you attend is a worthwhile experience, rather than a waste of resources.
Why do we attend medical conferences?
Education and social interaction are often cited as the primary reasons to attend a major medical conference. From large sessions devoted to the latest ground-breaking advances to smaller lectures specifically designed to review the current standard of care, conferences aim to educate attendees. In addition, these meetings provide opportunities to contribute to the dissemination of information by presenting your own original work to a group of peers who provide immediate feedback. Conferences that bring together thousands of oncology professionals create the ideal environment for reconnecting with former colleagues and networking with fellows from other training programs, future collaborators, and competitors. For an oncology fellow who will soon join the ranks of practicing oncologists, this is also the place to meet future employers.
Worth the price?
Some have begun to question whether the educational and social opportunities provided by such meetings justify the expense. Critics raise concern over the environmental impact of thousands of tons of carbon emissions from air travel to meetings.1 Professional time and the level of expertise of an oncologist are also limited resources and may be better spent outside of an airport. While meeting abstracts may be peer-reviewed, the process is not as rigorous as for full-length publication. Furthermore, 35% of abstracts that describe the results of randomized clinical trials are never published in full.2 Thus, the potential for harm exists due to incomplete information. Finally, while disclosure of conflicts of interest for speakers is now mandated, some question the objectiveness of a scientific program organized by leaders in a field for whom such conflicts exist.3