The 2018 ASH Annual Meeting in San Diego marked the debut of ASH-a-Palooza, the reimagined Trainee Day. This new educational experience offers a relaxed, open learning environment for trainees with multiple opportunities for micro learning. Here, Marquita Nelson, MD, chair of the ASH Trainee Council, gives us an inside look at what’s in store for this year’s event.
This is the second year of ASH-a-Palooza. What did the Trainee Council learn from last year’s event?
We learned a lot from last year’s experience at Petco Park in San Diego. We weren’t sure how many people to expect but got an overwhelming response. We had tickets for 500 trainees on a first-come, first-served basis, but more than 900 trainees showed up. We underestimated how excited people were about ASH-a-Palooza. So, it was a pleasant surprise, but we realized that we needed to make room for all the trainees who wanted to participate.
When we planned this year’s ASH-a-Palooza, we made sure to choose a venue that could hold more trainees, the ASH staff, and the volunteer faculty members. This year’s event will be held at Topgolf in Orlando, which has a much larger capacity.
What changes to the programming can attendees expect?
Last year, we asked attendees to complete surveys after the event and the response was overwhelmingly positive, but we took the feedback – good and bad – and tweaked the schedule accordingly. That means bringing back some of the most well-received speakers and topics, including Rayne Rouce, MD, from Texas Children’s Hospital’s Bone Marrow Transplant/Stem Cell Transplant Program, to give the welcome address again. She was amazing and got everyone energized at last year’s ASH-a-Palooza.
We also implemented some changes based on comments from attendees, like providing headsets with volume control and reducing the number of Blood Drops (5-minute rapid-fire talks, each presented twice) from four rounds to three. People were very interested in the Blood Drops, but they felt like they weren’t able to attend as many as they wanted to. To help with that, the presentations will be available on hematology.org.
In planning this year’s event, the Trainee Council and the Committee on Training also included more PhD-focused content than in the previous year. Now, we have a whole mentoring session for trainees interested in a PhD career, as well as some PhD topics in Blood Drops. We want to ensure that ASH-a-Palooza reaches all trainees, not just those in the clinical world.
Plus, we’ve added golf! I think it provides even more opportunities for networking and talking with your peers because the game breaks down barriers. Any anxiety or apprehension melts away because we’re all just there to have a good time, learn a lot, and enjoy the experience. We made some good changes this year. I’m excited to see how things play out.
What opportunities are available for networking and learning at ASH-a-Palooza?
This event is unique in that it gives trainees an opportunity to have meaningful interactions with experts in their chosen field. The faculty members who volunteer for ASH-a-Palooza are accessible, engaging, and personable. They want to talk with trainees.
We also have a specific mentoring program called Blood Buddies, where experts in eight categories – ranging from adult clinical malignant hematology to PhD careers to quality improvement – will be available to offer one-on-one advice for trainees. ASH-a-Palooza allows for intimate conversations with people you may have admired from afar, but whom you ordinarily might not be able to interact with at a large meeting like the ASH annual meeting. Also, it’s a setting where there’s no pressure. It’s not an anxiety-provoking atmosphere; it’s a welcoming environment where everyone wants to help trainees.
What sessions or talks are you most excited for?
There are three ASH Talks this year, which are 10-minute talks that speakers will present from the Topgolf driving range. In the first, Shauna Whisenton, manager of patient engagement for the ASH Research Collaborative, whose own sickle cell disease (SCD) was cured by transplant, will speak about her experience; in the second, Marc Kahn, MD, MBA, will discuss negotiation, which is super important for those of us who are looking for jobs right now; and in the third, Lillian Sung, MD, PhD, a pediatric hematologist at SickKids in Toronto, will talk about her journey. I’m excited to hear how Dr. Sung started as a trainee and got to where she is now, so that maybe I can emulate that path.
ASH-a-Palooza is an excellent display of all that ASH has to offer for trainees, so we’ve also added some new Blood Drops focused on ASH awards, such as the ASH Minority Medical Student Award and the ASH Physician-Scientist Career Development Award, and ASH initiatives like the Medical Educators Institute.