Reflections from the 2019 Foley Retreat

By Laura Petrillo,  MD

What an honor to join the 13th annual Kathleen Foley retreat as an AAHPM Scholar this year! It was clear from Dr. Sean Morrison’s opening remarks that the 2019 retreat would not shy away from difficult topics, such as how to address inequitable health care delivery and gender bias, and how to promote research from investigators of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The three-day retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming featured thought-provoking plenary presentations from Dr. Eduardo Bruera (the American Cancer Society Pathfinder Award winner), Dr. Otis Brawley, Dr. Oreofe Odejide, Dr. Abby Rosenberg and Dr. Kimberly Johnson. The program also included a lively poster walk, research-in-progress presentations and a hearty dose of the secret sauce of the Foley retreat: incredible opportunities to network with some of the top researchers and rising stars in our field.

As Dr. Morrison promised, we were inspired, particularly by Drs. Johnson and Brawley, to think about how to provide adequate care to populations that do not receive it in our current health care system. Dr. Crawley made a strong case that systematic differences in how care is delivered across racial groups drive differences in outcomes. Dr. Johnson highlighted disparities in federal funding that disadvantaged researchers whose work aimed to describe and address those inequities. She also described an extraordinary launchpad for junior investigators doing health disparities research that she and colleagues have created at Duke – the Duke Center for REsearch to AdvanCe Healthcare Equity (REACH Equity).

Additional highlights of the retreat included reconnecting with fellow members of the AAHPM Early Investigators Forum, catching up with old friends from San Francisco, as well as making new friends and having starstruck conversations with senior researchers I have long admired. The informal mingling opportunities afforded many exciting moments, such as talking about Halloween costumes and ASMR (Google it) with one palliative care research giant over dinner, and picking another influential researcher’s brain about the article he published that day in the New England Journal of Medicine, while sitting next to him on the shuttle to the airport (there is no peace when you are a star). I also enjoyed gaining some elevation on a quick hike up the Jackson Hole Resort mountain with friends old and new, and joining in a spirited barside singalong after dinner, led by Alex Smith on guitar.

Perhaps the most informative 90 minutes for this junior investigator was spent listening to a mock grant review, led by Dr. Ken Covinsky and deliberated by Drs. Christine Ritchie, Karen Steinhauser, Alex Smith and James Tulsky. I learned to “lead with carnage” by clearly stating the awful problem that my grant would solve, and to “strategically disarm” my reviewer by anticipating and addressing potential pitfalls before reviewers could judge me by them. Those helpful tips have already come in handy while drafting my next specific aims page.

Overall, the Foley Retreat was every bit as educational, stimulating, and community-building as one could hope. I am grateful for AAHPM’s support that allowed me to attend and can’t wait for the momentum to continue at the first-ever AAHPM State of the Science meeting in March 2020.

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