ASH-a-Palooza: Trainee Day. Reimagined.

Leidy Isenalumhe, MD, MS
Clinical Hematology/Oncology Fellow, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Tampa, Florida
Alex Boucher, MD
Clinical Fellow, Cancer and Blood Disease Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio

The “Trainee Day” that attendees may know from past annual meetings has been reimagined as ASH-a-Palooza – a new educational experience that will offer a relaxed, open learning environment for trainees in a festival-like setting with multiple opportunities for micro-learning. During breaks between sessions at Petco Park, trainees can enjoy ballpark-style food and are invited to visit information booths to learn about opportunities in hematology.

We spoke with Leidy Isenalumhe, MD, MS, the 2017-18 Trainee Council Chair, and Alex Boucher, MD, the 2018-19 Trainee Council Chair, about the new event and what trainees can expect.

Why did the ASH Trainee Council decide to revamp Trainee Day?

Leidy Isenalumhe, MD, MS: The original Trainee Day has been around for more than a decade, following the same structure with topics and speakers rotating every couple of years. It was a huge success with great turnout, but we were limited to a few topics each year. And with the traditional Trainee Day structure, it was difficult to cover topics that would be applicable to people at different levels of training; if people attended the event throughout their training, the content might become redundant. Also, people have different learning styles. So, we thought that revamping Trainee Day would increase our turnout and engagement.

Alex Boucher, MD: Trainee Day has always been held the day before the ASH annual meeting starts, and the focus has been on trainee-related topics. Typically, that has meant didactic sessions, small-group breakouts, and the feel of a conventional academic meeting. The topics are exciting, but there wasn’t a sense of excitement about how the information was shared. And, as Leidy said, it worked. Still, we felt that it needed refreshing, as essentially a new generation of hematologists is on the way.

Dr. Isenalumhe: When I joined the Trainee Council, one of my dreams was to change Trainee Day, and it’s amazing that it happened so quickly – thanks to the support of ASH and many people working behind the scenes.

When you were planning the reimagined Trainee Day, what were your goals?

Dr. Isenalumhe: We wanted to increase the number of medical students and residents coming to Trainee Day – and entering hematology as a specialty. With ASH-a-Palooza, our goal is to expose new trainees to hematology, but also expose them to the many resources that ASH can provide, in a more relaxed environment.

For this event, we literally took our plans for Trainee Day and restructured everything. We wanted an “open-concept” event, so when we started to plan the event, the entire Trainee Council (post-docs, PhDs, MDs, and MD/PhDs) came together and asked, “What topics are pertinent for training?”

What new events are being introduced with ASH-a-Palooza?

Dr. Boucher: We wanted to rework Trainee Day in a revolutionary way so that it made a splash. That starts with the venue: Rather than being in a large ballroom, it is going to be at Petco Park. We’ll be outside on the baseball field, under the San Diego sunlight, and I think it will breathe new life into the event.

ASH-a-Palooza is designed like a festival, and because of this setting, the flow of the sessions will be different, as well. Attendees will have more flexibility and can come and go as they please, freely moving between sessions and finding the topics and speakers that most interest them. With a broad topic base like this, there will be something for everybody.

Dr. Isenalumhe: One of the most exciting new events are the “ASH Talks.” These are the ASH version of TED Talks, which are motivational, interactive, attention-grabbing, and short. Instead of a 30-minute lecture with slides, the talks will feature one person describing a topic in a 20-minute presentation – no podium and minimal slides. The first ASH Talk is titled “Why Hematology?” Then, there are talks about chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, negotiating your first job, and self-care for hematologists.

Dr. Boucher: After the ASH Talks, attendees can go to “Blood Drops,” where they can find their area of interest and dive into a topic. This is far-and-away one of the biggest, most robust changes that we’ve made to the trainee event. Again, these are short: Speakers will either present one slide for 5 minutes or 20 slides that change automatically every 15 seconds. Each session will be presented twice in a row to allow the audience to move easily between presentations.

Dr. Isenalumhe: There are a variety of topics, relevant to every level of trainee. For medical students, we have talks like “What is iron-deficiency anemia?” For fellows, we have talks like “How do you fix your CV?” For mid-career trainees, we have talks like “How do you go from academia to industry?” If you’re interested in malignant lymphomas, or sickle cell disease, or adolescent and young adult cancers, we cover that.

Dr. Boucher: These features are what make ASH-a-Palooza so exciting – rather than hundreds of trainees sitting in a large ballroom, this year’s event contains talks about specific topics delivered to smaller groups.

What types of mentorship opportunities can attendees expect at ASH-a-Palooza?

Dr. Isenalumhe: There are several opportunities for trainees to talk one-on-one with world-renowned hematologists. “Blood Buddies” is a mentor-mentee version of speed-dating. Trainees sit with an experienced hematologist for 10 minutes and can ask any question they want, whether it’s about career decisions or a challenging clinical case. Normally, it might be difficult for younger trainees to have that type of access, so it’s exciting that so many amazing annual-meeting speakers want to be part of this event and help trainees.

Dr. Boucher: “Blood Buddies” is a reimagining of the ASH lunches a dozen trainees sat at a table with one senior hematologist. Unfortunately, there was a limited amount of time to ask questions and a limited number of speakers to sit down with. Depending on one’s comfort level, that might not have been the best setting for a fulfilling conversation with a mentor. We hope that this one-on-one format will encourage trainees to ask focused, high-quality questions.

What sessions are you most excited about?

Dr. Boucher: Wellness will be a big focus of ASH-a-Palooza – it’s a topic that members of the Trainee Council pushed for. Several of the Blood Drops speakers will be covering this through talks like “Medicine and Parenthood,” and our last ASH Talk covers resiliency and self-care.

Dr. Isenalumhe: The scope of these sessions is broader than previous years, but I think that this new format will give us the opportunity to focus deeply on each topic. Whether you’re a medical student, a resident, a first-, second-, or third-year fellow, there’s something for you. Trainee Day was already amazing, but I’m happy we have this opportunity to continue to grow and evolve.

Dr. Boucher: ASH-a-Palooza is a big experiment in building a new experience for trainees and continued capacity for excitement, but we also need to know what’s working so we can keep improving. I encourage attendees to tell us what they think and what we can do to make ASH-a-Palooza even better next year.

Time and Date: Friday, November 30, 12 to 5 p.m.

Location: Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres

While you must have an ASH Trainee badge for admittance, there is no fee to attend, and separate registration is not required; however, attendance will be limited and access to the event will be on a first-come, first-served basis.