Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Behind the scenes of the APHA Annual Meeting program, part 1: ‘It’s completely member-driven’

10,000. Actually, it’s more than 10,000. That’s how many abstracts APHA member volunteers sifted through and reviewed to eventually find the more than 5,000 abstracts that will be presented at this year’s 142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans. And they did it all in less than a year — actually, they did it all in closer to half a year.

This blogger has been to 11 Annual Meetings and the size of the program has always been a bit of a running joke: Has anyone seen the phonebook — I mean the Annual Meeting program. Ha! But in reality, the APHA Annual Meeting program is like best Christmas presents from our childhoods. It’s big, heavy and bulky, which almost always means there’s something pretty awesome inside. The program is nearly an almanac of public health practice, detailing and preserving the latest research, trends and successes in creating healthier communities. But have you ever wondered what goes into creating this tome to public health? Here’s the first in a series of peeks behind the proverbial curtain.

When it comes to creating the Annual Meeting program, APHA members sit in the driver’s seat. But directing the traffic is Donna Wright, manager of scientific session development within APHA’s Conventions Department. Appropriately, the program planning begins and ends at the Annual Meeting. In other words, as one meeting officially closes, Wright gathers program planners from all of APHA’s Sections, Special Primary Interest Groups, Caucuses, Forums and the Student Assembly in that year’s host city to kick off planning for the next year’s meeting. While the rest of us are coming up for air after five days of jam-packed meeting events, Wright and a small army of volunteers are already getting to work on the next iteration of the world’s largest public health gathering.

“It’s completely member-driven,” Wright says. “If it weren’t for them, it would be a very small meeting.”

Wright says there are so many moving parts to putting together the Annual Meeting program that it’s actually quite difficult to put the enormity of the task into words. But like the profession of public health, this blog isn’t going to shy away from trying. That’s why this post is only the first in a series that goes behind the scenes to see what goes into creating the Annual Meeting program.

In the next month or so, we’ll talk more with Wright as well as program chairs from the Mental Health and International Health Sections and the Ethics SPIG about a process that begins with each member group crafting a compelling call for abstracts and ends with organizing thousands of accepted presentations into hundreds of individual sessions, each with a cohesive thread and narrative. It’s not easy, Wright says, but it’s certainly fulfilling.  

“I love being part of something so huge, so major,” Wright says. “To see it come to fruition and just flow — that’s the most rewarding part.”

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes coverage coming next month!


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