Friday, 03 Apr 2020

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Improving the ACR – Big Meeting Experience

Attending the ACR (or EULAR) meeting can be an amazingly productive learning experience.  At the same time, many of our peers lament the overwhelming size of the meeting, the volume of programming choices or the angst of choosing which “session” is best for me and my practice.

When I attend ACR or EULAR, I have many objectives: a) learn; b) teach; c) cover important topics/abstracts for RheumNow or my other teaching responsibilities; and d) network and socialized with the rheumatology brethren.  I really do need to clone myself, get Elon Musk to fit me for rocket runners and while waxing ridiculously, I could use a time machine with playback.

Instead, I thought it would be best for me to formulate a new or better way for any of us to attend these meetings.  Below you will see my recommendations and those of several of the RheumNow faculty who face the same challenges. 

Dr. Jack Cush

  • Planning is key! The night before you must spend at least 1-2 hours reviewing the schedule of lectures (preferably using the meeting App) and developing your own personalized schedule of sessions you MUST attend.  Only prioritize the MUST attend sessions.  You can have others that are preferred.
  • Poster sessions: You should spend at least 25% of your meeting time on the poster floor. Use the App or ACR/EULAR website to search for your top 5 topics or issues and your top 10 speakers or key opinion leaders. Many of these results will be posters, write down your list of Day 1 poster numbers (and put a note next to it like #334 APL..), Day 2 posters, etc.
  • If you wish to avoid too much socialization while trying to view and review posters, I would recommend that you get there before 9am and work hard at poster review between 9-10AM, over the lunch hour and anytime in the later afternoon – the presenter may not be there but the poster usually will.
  • If you hate the hustle/bustle and crowds. Then find a good seat and camp out in the main lecture hall (e.g., HALL B) for the Plenaries and all other presentations deemed to be “big” by the college.  You should spend at least half your meeting time there.

Dr. Rachel Tate

  • In terms of ACR, I've found that the divide and conquer approach works best for me. I get my fellowship and other friends to divvy up and attend the important sessions and then we all get together for a meal or two to discuss important findings and what that means for me clinically. 

Dr. Maeve Gamble

  • The ACR tried a new feature this year – “Daily Digest”.  They had leading teachers and researchers who recapped the best abstracts of the day in a 30 minute session.

Dr. Kanika Monga

  • In order to make the experience better, I recommend planning ahead of time. I also triage the sessions as "can't miss," and "will try to attend."
  • I try to schedule any meet-ups ahead of time so that I'm not scrambling to set up meetings at the last minute.  But, I also want to leave room for spontaneity. It is important to balance fun, and work.
  • The most important thing I've learned at these meetings is that it is impossible to be everywhere at the same time - so relying on social media and free open access educational resources such as RheumNow come handy! 

Dr. Irwin Lim

  • The ACR is getting more and more unwieldy and immensely tiring just due to the amount of content and the crowds.
  • My advice (especially to newbies - which I need to take myself) is to spend more time with the app pre-meeting to go through the abstracts and various sessions to really chart a course.
  • Also, stay there most of the day (e.g. 730am till 6pm); that’s a lot of info!
  • It would be smarter (and maybe more expensive) to stay in the nearest hotels to allow for a quick duck back to the hotel for a quick rest. 

Dr. Mike Putman

  • Work on making your own "tracks."  I put together a vasculitis track for myself then mixed in the PsA stuff.  Some people on twitter had done that for SLE and published it - I'm going to do that next year and think it would be helpful for people. 
  • Review SLIDES – if available online. I don't know why they don't have slides available for half the talks!
  • Organize your own Meetup! Get all your folks or friends together in one place for pizza and beer after one of the first few meeting days. 

Dr. Antoni Chan

  • Decide on your learning needs and use the app weeks before the meeting to plan the sessions you should attend. Prioritize as you can’t be in two places at the same time.
  • Meet up with colleagues at the breaks or at the end of the day and share learnings from the day. Discuss “which session did you go to and what did you find useful or interesting?” Bookmark this in your app and have a look at it.
  • Don’t drown in the detail. Go for the topline and high level message or finding from the abstract or talk. You can get the detail later from looking at the paper or abstract. You would have now developed some questions after listening to the talk and this brings the paper to life.
  • Look at websites that summarize or review the main findings or highlights from the day. For example, the ACR daily news and RheumNow website have videos and articles that summarize the day
  • Strike while the iron is hot. Write down your key learnings on you flight home. Don’t leave it longer as you will be caught up with other commitments once you land. What did you learn and were your learning needs met? Commit to one thing that you will bring back to your clinic that will improve patient care. Finally set up a meeting with your colleagues back home and commit to share with them your updates from ACR so they get to benefit from you being away at the conference.

Dr. Kathryn Dao

  • See my blog on How to make information stick (from the ACR)
  • Get involved by tweeting, blogging, or reporting on the meeting - you will learn more and retain the information better.  It is like being a teacher-- you do your research first, figure out what you are going to say, then disseminate information.  Being a part of RheumNow has actually made the ACR come alive for me and allowed me to be a better doctor because I digest the new information more effectively. 
  • Pre-plan where you want to go. Look at the ACR App the night before and choose topics that interest you. Plan on going to about 3-4 sessions a day with a few breaks downtime to digest the information and get food for your brain. Don't feel guilty about not being able to attend all the session-- it is like going to a buffet-- you can pick a few things you like and go back, you don't have to pile your plate until the food spills over.  If there are lectures/session that overlap, you can always go to ACRBeyond and review the videos of the lecture  or check out the condense summary on
  • Follow active large follower tweeters-- they provide up to date accounts of what is happening; they are your scribes for what’s happening at the meeting. You need to be careful about interpreting information you receive by tweet-- due to the 240 character limits, we can only tweet info within these confines. You can always retweet or message the author with a comment or question; most tweeters will reply to your question/concerns.

In Summary – most of our advisors say you should:

  • Plan the night before
  • Use the ACR meeting App
  • Work in Groups
  • Be involved in social media or reporting to others about the meeting
  • Have fun

A recent twitter polled asked why you attend the ACR meeting, most said it was for networking and social reasons


What's your advice on how to best attend the ACR meeting?


The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject
Dr. Cush is the Director of Clinical Rheumatology at the Baylor Research Institute and a Professor of Medicine and Rheumatology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, TX. He a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.
Dr. Cush is the Executive Editor of and also Co-Edits the online textbook 
Dr. Cush's research and interests include novel drug development, rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritis, drug safety, pregnancy and Still's disease/autoinflammatory syndromes. He has published over 140 articles and 2 books in rheumatology.
He can be followed on twitter: @RheumNow.

Rheumatologists' Comments

Prioritize the poster sessions to the clinical or scientific areas you are most interested in and within those sessions the poster abstracts which you really want to see. Avoid all the others and you should be able to see all you want within an hour. Unless of course you are accosted by Dr Cush for an opinion on the meeting.