Behind the Scenes of the Annual Assembly

The Annual Assembly, like baseball season, comes and goes quickly. However, the planning is ongoing and takes a year. Prior to the Annual Assembly, there is much discussion past assemblies – the good, the bad, and the mediocre. The opening day of the Annual Assembly for AAHPM and HPNA – is always exciting. Okay, perhaps not as exciting as Opening Day at Fenway Park for the Red Sox, or opening day for the baseball season in general. But still exciting and rewarding. We have the previous stats from other annual assemblies – winning sessions, home run session and speakers, fouls of language and lack of inclusion, and outs of people who promoted something other than palliative care principles. We have a variety of list of players, and a back-up plan for most last minute changes and pinch hitters. It is the time to see everything unfold.

The strategy behinds the conference is a fluid process, a sort of quality assessment improvement process. Discussions include an overview of the assembly, scheduling, team building, and yes, the process. These are ongoing issues but each assembly has a special focus with a theme and the attention to new leaders and new research in the field. Indeed, the plan behind the “The Game” or the Annual Assembly is much like the delivery of palliative care. There is a “general template for evaluation” – the blueprint of the conference. It outlines everything that needs to be done keeping the group in track with tasks and dates. The evaluation also includes review of the abstract submissions; a competitive process. It is important to understand that the level of conference sophistication continues to rise. All accepted abstracts have an average score of 4.5 or above in a rating of 1—5. This has risen significantly even from two years ago when it was around 4.0.

The amount of “advanced care planning” for the Annual Assembly is extensive – with the “goals of care” established in the overall objectives of the meeting: networking, education, and renewal. The “surrogate decision makers” are comprised of the members of Planning Committee. It consists of the Co-Chairs representing HPNA and AAHPM as well as the planning committee members reflecting the diversity of both organizations, the Research Sub-Committee Co-Chairs and their research committee, and the staffs at AAHPM and HPNA. There are constant “family meetings” to provide information of the state of abstracts, plenary planning, conflict of interest, continuing education credits, and the like. There are “decision points” in terms of abstract review and acceptance, content review, and the implementation of new technology into sessions. Above all, there is a “collaborative process” which helps when there are bumps. These include the inevitable technology glitches, communication with abstracts not being accepted, and keeping everyone in the communication loop around decision-making. Thus, there is the philosophy “hope for the best, and plan for the worst” and “promoting excellence.”

Being Co-Chair at the meeting is like being a Baseball Manager. You are in the background working on the process. Then you are in the public domain when it all begins. You are responsible for what occurs at the conference. Since people know who you are, you hear the good and the bad as well as everything in between. People assume you know all the intimate details of the conference, from the telephone numbers of the AV people, to Room Numbers, to session scheduling. To assure confidence in offering up-to-date information and assistance, I carry a notebook with all the conference details. My notebook has an hour by hour, day by day review of the schedule, from the schedule with Title of Presentations, to Presenters, to Room numbers for my reference. I also have my own personal schedule with the events which includes dropping in on preconferences, new speakers, or new technologies. Yes, this may be old school, but I can tell you it is often easier and quicker than getting online access to the conference sessions.

On Wednesday, the pre-conferences are the warm-up or “pre-season” for the Annual Assembly. You get to see your co-collaborators- the national staff from AAHPM and HPNA – whom you have spent many telephone and e-mail hours working with, to check in to make sure everything is ready.The Opening Reception sets the tone; the personal connection. Relationships are renewed with the delight of seeing friends and colleagues. New relationships are established as one puts names to faces of people you have worked with. On Thursday as the Opening Plenary begins, there is a feeling of “Game on-Here we go!” There are a variety of expectations for the day – to be inspired, to explore new areas, and to reconnect. The “season” has begun. On Friday, the “game” is in full swing the conference seems to be full swing, people are in a groove. Difficult choices must be made in terms of which sessions to attend arise, but that is a good thing. We want people to have conflicting choices they want to go to; rather than having a choice by elimination. On Saturday, the tenor is quieter. People have been in full swing for 2 days. They are aware it will end soon and they must say goodbye. An eerie silence begins to descend as participants begin to leave. By the afternoon, “The Game” is over with the sense of “Well played.” There is a bittersweet feeling; one is the sadness of it all ending and the other is a feeling of accomplishment of having achieved education, networking, and renewal. Just like a baseball season, the highs and lows will be discussed and reviewed in detail. Some predictions for the future will occur. But as in all baseball seasons, the hope is that next year, it will be a winner with same energy and enthusiasm.

Northshore Medical Center
Palliative Care Services
Boston, MA

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