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ACR 2017 Playbook

Nov 05, 2017 3:00 am

The annual ACR/ARHP meeting, which begins today, Sunday November 5th, is for many the premier meeting in all of rheumatology. For the ACR, it is their biggest educational event. It's also big for industry, academics, North American and international rheumatologists, and especially important to those who will be presenting their research for the first time. It's a major meeting for those who are unable to attend, since many of the big advances and discussions require some knowledge of ACR happenings. 

The good news is that RheumNow and its expanded faculty will cover the meeting today and each day until Thursday.

For me and many others, this is the Super Bowl of meetings. I haven’t missed an ACR meeting since 1984. In this span of 30 years I have acquired insights on how to navigate such a big meeting. When I say big, I mean over 15,000 attendees from over 100 countries swarming throughout a convention center that has the elements of the Texas state fair, Costco gone wild and a sold-out Margaritaville concert. Somewhere between the DMV and Woodstock, it is a challenge to navigate, especially if you're disoriental.

To succeed at the ACR, you need to have goals beyond finding a seat or finding lunch. This is supposed to be all about education, but it can be much more than that. A fabulous line from Dr. Ronan Kavanagh (a social media maverick) says that "..medical conferences are as much about science as barbecues are about food". Follow him on Twitter - @RonanTKavanagh.

Thus, for most, the goal is the acquisition of as much clinically relevant, impactful information to update and sharpen your practice, research and teaching acumen. But don't forget the fellowship and things needed to make this a memorable and worthwhile event. 

Focus on:

  1. Acquisition of important and useful knowledge.
  2. Critically review the new guidelines, major advances and big blockbuster studies. These will be the topic of discussion for months and years to come.
  3. Fellowship. Many of you are fellows of the ACR and the old coots are our “Masters”. We should learn and enjoy the interactions with peers and the ACR Masters. At this meeting, I meet those I trained with or went to med school with. To see old fellows and relish in their successes and stories in life and medicine is icing on the cake.
  4. Use your time away from work wisely such that the expanse of education, camaraderie and work will leave you exhausted each night and rested each morning.
  5. Enjoy yourself, get a good night’s sleep and put a good 14-16 hours of effort into what is going to be well spent time away from work.

ACR Playbook (AKA guide to the Annual Meeting)

These are my suggestions to enhance your experience at the annual ACR meeting.

Before you go

  • Download the ACR 2017 App on your iPhone or Android phone or tablet. Familiarize yourself with searching, finding and navigation before you go. This has supplanted the analogue utility of the “program book” and is better suited to make quick decision on which session, where, etc.
  • Go online: check the weather and pack accordingly. Also, map out where you will be staying and how you can get to and from the Convention center. For those staying at an ACR host hotel, there will be handy shuttle service throughout the day. But many will need to get around by other means – consider the bus lines, subway system, Uber and taxi service.
  • Streamline your travel. Don’t overpack. If you can’t come to this 4-day meeting in a single carry on suitcase, then you need a 12-step program on packing and planning. Remember you can a) buy items there; b) wash clothes and use dry cleaners while there; and c) get by on 1 pair of shoes and 1 coat.
  • What to wear? Old school rheumatologists will continue to pack the khakis and blue blazer. The blue blazer is the Swiss army knife of ACR meetings. It is semi-professional, works with all other garb, and doubles as an overcoat should the weather be cold outside or in. For many, the new uniform is black monochromatic. Led by nouveau riche rheumatologists Drs. Lenny Calabrese and Michael Weisman, “black is in baby”. Nonetheless, most rheumatologists these days are not old guys from Michigan. Instead most are women, millennials and Gen X-ers whose garb I can’t wear or comment on. However, I can say there is no place to park your coat, so wear something light that will cover your needs as you run from hotel to bus and bus to the convention center. What you wear at night is up to you.
  • Bring your own bag. The ACR use to hand out a cool bag at registration. Now the meeting bag is a utilitarian recycled grocery bag from Whole Foods. Also, do you really want your bag to look just like the bag of 10,000 other attendees? So, bring your own light nylon, ballistic, or canvas briefcase, nap-sack or book bag. Just enough to carry your daily essentials and far less than that needed for a rotator-cuff strain. Be sure to label, tag or colorize and personalize your bag with contact info attached (in case it is lost).

Once You Arrive

  • Determine your travel time, route and method of transportation.
  • If you get in early, go to the registration desk and get yourself registered. Be sure to bring the email confirmation and bar code sent to you by the ACR months ago when you registered.
  • Get two (2) business cards from the front desk of your hotel (remember you’re in a strange city and have no idea where you're going). Put one in your daily briefcase and put the other either behind your name badge holder or in your wallet.
  • Plan your day the night before. Do this by either using the Annual Meeting App or going thru the program book for offerings. Make a hit list of oral presentations and abstracts, group them and list by time, place, and type (poster versus oral presentations).
  • Find Your Must See Sessions
  • Plenary Sessions: Be sure to review the plenary sessions for each day. These are supposed to be the best among thousands of submitted abstracts.
  • Clinical Symposia: there is usually one or two of these each day that are very educational with speakers who are tops in the field.
  • The Year in Review or the Great Debate. Since I introduced these years ago, I still hold these sessions in high regard. One of not both of these should be very good, if not entertaining.
  • Abstract Floor: for me this is the best and hardest to tackle. There are way too many to see by just grazing through a mind field of posters. You have to do your homework and review session offerings and abstracts to be presented the next day. Jot down the numbers and have a “hit list” of what to see. With this you can attack the expanse of posters, zig and zag and keep the chit chat to a friendly minimum. You usually only have 60-90 minutes in the morning before you have to hustle to get a seat at the next plenary session. You can also use the ACR annual meeting app to select what you want to view or go to and then use “My Schedule” to navigate your day.
  • Rheumatology Round-Up: Dr. Artie Kavanaugh and I do a meeting recap on Wednesday morning at 730AM. Be one of 3000+ who come to hear what we think is the best, coolest, or most controversial research presented at the meeting.

The Daily Game Plan

  • Be sure to get a really good and healthy breakfast. Coffee and pastry at the convention center is insufficient fuel for your day. You may not get another decent meal until dinner time.
  • You’ve done your homework. You know what you want to or have to see. Map out your schedule on paper or use the ACR App. Schedule each day as you would your usual work day. Start by cementing the most important first sessions (e.g. Your presentation or plenary), then surround it with other valued sessions. Be sure to spend at least 60 minutes seeing abstracts you need to see.
  • I usually tear out each day’s section from the program book. On Sunday I'll carry this with me, so I have something to refer to.
  • Over lunch you can either meet people, eat usually bad food on site or get in a cab and go somewhere for a bite. Don’t know where to go, ask one of the pharmaceutical people, they usually know where a good meal can be found.
  • Also, start your day with a plan on how you will end your day. I don’t recommend going to the industry sponsored evening symposia. It’s usually 800 people and a rubber chicken dinner. Go if the speaker and topic are appealing to sacrifice your time and GI tract. Otherwise find new or old friends and see the city.
  • But be home in time to spend the necessary time to plan for tomorrow and get 7 hours sleep.

For Those Not Attending

Many won’t or can’t go to the annual ACR meeting. Many because it’s just a behemoth of a conference, or there is a time away from work or finance issue. And for the disoriented and claustrophobic this is a meeting best avoided. 

But because you’re not there doesn’t mean you can’t partake in the education and the roll out of new and vital information in the field of rheumatology. Here are several tips:

  • RheumNow will have expanded coverage of the ACR 2017 meeting.  You can track this by clicking on the daily emaiil that will send you to our dedicated meeting site -   Your daily email will preview some of the highlights.  The website will feature a Daily Feature and review of Day 1 (etc.) presentations. will have numerous faculty members tweeing the best stuff, writing articles and we will have videos from leaders and  faculty attending all the sessions and culling the abstracts and posters.
  • Follow @rheumnow on Twitter or follow tweets with #ACR17: Follow news and good teaching points on twitter. It’s not that hard, sign up on the website, give yourself a “handle” (e.g., @JohnRheumatologist) and daily just search for this term #ACR17. There will be hundreds of rheums tweeting cool stuff from the meeting. When you see info you like coming from one reporter – you can “Follow” that person. Henceforth you will see their tweets on your homepage daily. For instance, you can follow @RheumNow and you will see up to 50 tweets a day while we are at the meeting.
  • ACR Session Select: the ACR posts nearly real time video and audio presentations of the most popular educational sessions, including the plenary sessions, Clinical Symposia, The Great Debate, Curbside Consult, etc. These can be accessed at the ACR website (go to “annual meeting”).


The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

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