Special events, exhibit hall add to experience for thousands who registered
Malinda Larkin and Greg Cima
Attendees at AVMA Virtual Convention 2021, held July 29-Aug. 1, didn’t have to decide between two sessions happening at the same time—thanks to recorded lectures. Plus, special events and programs allowed attendees to connect with colleagues in a whole new way.
Michael Wilson, director of the AVMA Convention and Meeting Planning Division, said shortly after the convention: “The AVMA was able to transition the AVMA Convention into a successful virtual convention for a second straight year. Even with all of the virtual fatigue that attendees may have experienced over the past year and a half, we had over 3,600 registered attendees, thus far, and offered double the amount of continuing education. I am very pleased with the outcome, but look forward to being back in person in 2022.”
The exhibit hall’s Digital District made professionals available to provide brand and resume reviews, and the tech hub showcased start-up and technology companies at the forefront of the veterinary industry.
A scavenger hunt, the Power Up Virtual 5K, and Virtual Zoo Yoga kept attendees’ bodies and minds active. Kicking everything off was a concert by Prince tribute band Purple Xperience, whose performance was livestreamed from Minneapolis’s famed First Avenue Club, a site featured in the film “Purple Rain.”
A mentorship program connected students with veterinary professionals prior to the convention and during Convention-al Conversations. The Meet-the-Experts Round Table allowed participants to connect with presenters and peers to discuss trends in the veterinary industry.
Also during the convention, hybrid in-person and virtual meetings of the AVMA Board of Directors, AVMA House of Delegates, and Student AVMA House of Delegates took place in Chicago. (See this story and this story for coverage of the AVMA HOD.)
All about follow-through
Atul Gawande, MD, delivered the keynote speech to kick off AVMA Virtual Convention 2021. He is an endocrine surgeon at Harvard Medical School, a professor of medicine and public health, a researcher, a book author, and an advocate for improving safety in surgery and other health care. He also co-founded an organization, CIC Health, a subsidiary of Cambridge Innovation Center, which has performed COVID-19 testing and vaccination in the U.S., and he advised the Biden transition team on COVID-19.
In his presentation, Dr. Gawande described how the numbers of complications and deaths plummet in hospitals that add checklists in surgeries. He partnered with the World Health Organization on a team that identified critical aspects of procedures that even experts could miss, places where surgical teams fall apart, and pause points to catch issues.
They identified three such pause points: before anesthesia, before a skin incision, and before a patient leaves the operating room.
Rather than provide a cookbook, the checklist helps ensure a team is ready for the unexpected. But it also is designed to change the values of how an operating room works and shift away from the “cowboy values” that prioritize the surgeon’s autonomy.
“The decisions that the surgeon makes, what they think is most important, is what we have emphasized as the way we operate in operating rooms,” Dr. Gawande said. “And what we needed to do was instill the core values that are really team values—the values of a pit crew: humility, the recognition that no matter how pedigreed you are, no matter how experienced, you will make mistakes, dangerous ones.”
Dr. Gawande talked about the resistance he sometimes saw to changes despite benefits to patients. And he gave historical perspective by describing the rapid adoption of anesthesia, which had immediate and visible benefits to physicians and patients, in comparison with the slow adoption of antiseptics, which made life harder for physicians to provide a delayed and invisible effect.
“We are fantastic at breakthroughs in medicine,” he said. “We are all breakthrough, and we’re not enough follow-through. We’ve had an unconscionable tolerance for terrible implementation.”
Take risks, take action
Princess Sarah Culberson spoke during the general session about her journey through life and lessons learned along the way. She was adopted by a West Virginian couple as a 1-year-old and raised with little knowledge of her ancestry. She also was one of only a few Black people in her community.
“I didn’t realize I always tried to represent being the best and the person who represented my whole race,” Culberson said during her talk. “I was always operating as a kid like if I do something wrong, I don’t want people to think all African Americans or biracial people are this way.”
She had spoken previously with Dr. Marci Kirk on the AVMA’s “My Veterinary Life” podcast about this thought process. Dr. Kirk explained that sometimes veterinarians feel the same way, as though if they make a mistake or something goes wrong, they don’t want the public to think it reflects on the veterinary community.
Culberson, in her talk, also discussed her journey to Sierra Leone to meet her birth father and family. There, she discovered that she was considered a mahaloi, the granddaughter of a paramount chief, with the status of a princess.
That wasn’t all she discovered. The country was in the aftermath of an 11-year civil war. She was inspired to co-found Sierra Leone Rising, a nonprofit to support the community.
“One thing I’ve learned is you don’t have to know how to do everything, you just have to know what you want to do and bring others together who can help,” she said.
Culberson also learned from her time in Sierra Leone to take risks as well as listen to others and then take action. She urged attendees do something as small as telling family members you love them or calling someone who can help you with your business.
“I don’t know where you are in your journey, but take an action you’ve been wanting to take and move things forward in whatever area you’ve wanted to, and amazing things will happen,” Culberson said.
Looking to next year
The AVMA intends to return to its in-person convention, planned for July 29-Aug. 2, 2022, in Philadelphia.
Dr. Douglas T. Ensley, AVMA Convention Education Program Committee chair, said: “One thing we’re looking forward to next year in Philadelphia is being in person, but I think we will also have a hybrid option. That allows attendees’ connection with each other and friends and networking that can happen face to face. Then you still have individuals who have enjoyed this online environment for meetings. Having both options allows you as an individual to choose what’s best for you.”
Sessions worth paying attention to
The Top 10 most popular continuing education sessions at AVMA Virtual Convention 2021 were as follows:
“Chronic Vomiting in Cats–Reasons and Treatment”
“It’s Not Just Canned Food and Fluids: A Fresh Look on CKD in Cats!”
“Cytology for the Practitioner”
“Cytopoint Essential Facts and New Information You Need to Know!”
“Top 10 Toxins Affecting Dogs & Cats”
“New Advances in Chronic Pain Management in Cats”
“Keynote: Cowboys and Pit Crews With Atul Gawande, M.D.”
“Apoquel (Oclacitinib Tablet) Essential Facts and New Information You Need to Know!”
“The Most Appropriate Age for Spaying or Neutering to Avoid Increasing the Risk of a Joint Disorder or Cancer: A New Spay/Neuter Paradigm”
“A Practical Guide to Managing Osteoarthritis: Making Sense of Current Therapies”
Registered attendees can view all 300 hours of CE on demand through the end of October. Those who missed the live event can still register to get access to CE sessions, visit exhibitor booths, and view special events and activities. Visit the AVMA Virtual Convention website for more information.