Looking Backward, Looking Forward

By: Stuart J. Fischer, MD


Stuart J. Fischer, MD

I attended my first Annual Meeting in 1980 in Atlanta. I was a chief resident then and one of my professors, John Denton, and I had put together a scientific exhibit on the “Medial Triplane Fracture.” For a resident, it was a big deal. My department sponsored my trip to Atlanta. I got to stand at the booth every morning and talk to members of all stripes—academic, community, and military. Some were experts on pediatric ankle fractures who came by and discussed the fracture at length, sharing what they knew about an evolving topic.

Of course, a lot has changed since then. The Annual Meeting has grown. But during our last trip to New Orleans in 2014, my wife and I reflected on why we like New Orleans so much as a site for the Annual Meeting. It’s because of the layout. The Morial Convention Center is more than a half-mile long. But most hotels—whether in the Canal-Poydras St. area or even in parts of the French Quarter—are close in and a short walk to the meeting.

A small network of side streets funnels into the long convention center. As a result, we probably met and connected with more colleagues and friends going to and from the center than we did inside it. Compared to host cities like Orlando or San Francisco, more people appeared to be walking to the convention center in New Orleans. It seemed we stopped at nearly every block to reconnect with people we hadn’t seen in years, including two I hadn’t seen since my internship almost 40 years before.

It was no different in the French Quarter in the evenings. We always bumped into people we knew. It was more interesting than anything happening on Bourbon Street or in Jackson Square. Although my wife enjoyed seeing the exhibits and going to some events, she said for her the best part of Annual Meeting was the people we met outside the hall.

And speaking of the hall, the Morial Convention Center is nearly 11 blocks long. If you are taking a cab to the center for an early morning meeting, make sure you know what room it is being held in ahead of time. If you exit the cab at entrance A, you might still have at 8- to 10-minute walk if your meeting is at the other end of the center.

It’s amazing to see the changes that have occurred over the last 38 years. In 1980, there were just a few specialty societies and only The Hip Society had a separate specialty meeting. There were no more than three or four program sessions going on at one time. Instructional course lectures (ICLs) were only held from 8:00 a.m. to 10 a.m. The courses were didactic, with no hands-on or surgical skills sessions. There were exhibits and posters, but no “Ask an Expert” or Orthopaedic Video Theater.

Back in 1980, you entered the exhibit hall and program sessions with a printed badge. If you registered late, the badge might be printed by hand. An exhibitor couldn’t just “swipe your badge” to get your information. He or she had to take it down by hand. As ever, the Annual Meeting program was a big heavy book. But you had to carry it with you because that was the only way you knew what was going on.

I remember my old chief, Frank Stinchfield, MD, giving the welcoming address in 1985 and recalling how he asked a colleague from his early years with the Academy: “Did we ever think it would get this big?”

Well, the Academy has grown and the Annual Meeting keeps getting bigger. It’s not unusual for seven or eight program sessions to occur at the same time. ICLs are given all day and can last from 1.5 hours to 3 hours.

Overall, Annual Meeting now boasts more than 250 courses and academic programs. There will be more than 1,000 posters showcased in Academy Hall B. This year, nearly 20 societies participate in Specialty Day. Badges are embedded with digital information. Instead of lugging a heavy program book, you can access programs on your smartphone or tablet with the My Academy app.

So, what does it take to make this all happen?

First, we need a good host city with a convention bureau that can accommodate the large size of our meeting. The Morial Convention Center, with more than 1.1 million square feet is the 6th largest convention hall in the United States. The larger the exhibition floor, the better. Typically, there are more than 700 exhibitors at Annual Meeting, some requiring large spaces for lectures and hands-on demonstrations. The largest, of course, are the 2-story booths of exhibitors that might be 25 feet high and occupy more than 10,000 square feet of floor space.

We also need a good hotel base, typically 25 or 30 hotels, that can accommodate the meeting’s approximately 30,000 attendees. In Las Vegas in 2015, only 9 hotels were required because many of the Las Vegas resorts have more than 3,000 rooms.

And, of course, it takes the AAOS Annual Meeting Committee to pull everything together and make it all run smoothly. The Annual Meeting Committee’s 17 members plan the program and schedule. They are supported by program and instructional course committees in every specialty who evaluate paper submissions and choose the ICLs and symposia, posters, and scientific exhibits. Annual Meeting staff, headed by Susan McSorley, director of conventions, courses, and exhibits, plan the logistics and create revenue. It’s a year-long effort that all adds up to a great experience—the best the Academy has to offer.

Looking back, my wife and I have attended many Annual Meetings throughout the years. We’ve met many old friends and keep making new ones. Annual Meeting just keeps getting bigger and better.

It’s fun to sample the food and music in New Orleans, but it’s more fun to connect. So, enjoy the 2018 Annual Meeting and the Crescent City. And enjoy seeing old friends–it’s the best part of all!

Stuart J. Fischer, MD, is a member of the AAOS Now editorial board.