Like solving sudoku, planning the ACR annual meeting requires an ability to recognize patterns and employ focused logical thinking, all the while remaining undaunted by the various paths possible to complete a grid from what looks like, at initial glance, an incomprehensible labyrinth of options.
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Explore This IssueJuly 2022
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The patterns in this situation are not numbers, but sessions, and the grid is the spreadsheet on which the meeting organizers arrange what sessions to offer when and where based on myriad considerations. Working out all the different potential ways the grid can be completed is the task the Annual Meeting Planning Committee (AMPC) grapples with each year to create a final program that meets the needs and interests of all members and attendees.
Meeting this demand is not easy. As the content of the meeting continues to grow on par with the growth in attendance, organizers are charged with creating a program agenda that offers a balanced representation of basic science and clinical research, education, clinical practice and other content.
One strategic way to accomplish this is by running concurrent sessions, a strategy that, like a good puzzle, requires creating a grid on which sessions are mapped to make the most logical and logistical sense—logical, in that organizers strive to assemble the content of the meeting in a way that minimizes offering sessions of like interest in the same time slots. Accomplishing this is not perfect science by any measure, but an aspiration nonetheless.
Organizers also must consider the logistical challenges of the meeting by ensuring, for example, that rooms assigned to sessions can accommodate the number of attendees expected to attend. Again, glitches happen, but the aspiration is high.
And in the pandemic era, considerations have included remote-learning platforms, creating opportunities for networking in a virtual environment and accommodating live questions of presenters across time zones, to mention just a few challenges.
It was not always so complex. In the beginning, the meeting drew 75 attendees and 11 scientific papers were presented. Today, the meeting attracts between 14,000 and 16,000 attendees, many of whom come from outside North America. And more than 4,000 abstracts are submitted, of which about 80% are accepted for presentation.
How did the meeting become what it is today? This brief history of the meeting captures some key changes made over the past eight-plus decades of the meeting’s existence from the people charged with leading the planning team, the AMPC chairs. Through their recollections, readers are offered a glimpse into the human effort behind what has become a reliably excellent educational venue for rheumatologists around the world.