New Meeting Model for 2019!
Jeffrey J. Pasternak, MD
The notion of organizing a stand-alone SNACC Annual Meeting separate from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Annual Meeting has been discussed on multiple occasions by the past as well as the current SNACC leadership. After very diligently considering the pros and cons, carefully exploring alternatives and reflecting thoughtfully on the feedback from our recent Annual Meetings, the SNACC Board of Directors has decided to hold its Annual Meeting independent of the ASA meeting starting in 2019. First and foremost, this is only a change in our meeting model and does not reflect or impact SNACC’s current or future relationship with the ASA. We do realize that there are significant benefits to having the two meetings linked, but this association also poses significant limitations for SNACC. Our Board of Directors has been engaged in ongoing discussions to determine ways that we can further improve the scientific program, introduce innovative sessions and allow for formal and informal opportunities for collaboration, connection, and mentorship during our Annual Meeting without incurring the financial losses that currently result at our Annual Meetings. In recent years, many other subspecialty societies have considered, or have decided, to move away from ASA Annual Meeting. I would like to take this opportunity to explain some specific issues that led to this decision and also discuss our plans.
Holding a meeting prior to the ASA meeting poses significant restrictions on meeting organization. We try to limit the duration of our Annual Meeting to be respectful of peoples’ time, as attending both SNACC and the ASA could result in seven days absence from the workplace. As such, the SNACC meeting is jam packed starting on Thursday afternoon and running until after 9:00 pm on the first day. Committee meetings start at 7:00 am on the second day and activities continue for 12 hours. We felt that extending our SNACC meeting, but reducing the length of meeting time each day, would open up opportunities for informal networking sessions and allow for some time with friends and families. There is no time during the current SNACC meeting for these opportunities unless you “skip out” of sessions. I would relish the opportunity to engage with trainees and junior staff, the future perioperative neuroscientists, but there really are no reasonable opportunities to do this other than during a noisy and crowded pre-dinner symposium cocktail hour or an even noisier wine and cheese session. Our current meeting model allows limited time for casual interactions with junior staff or fellows from another institution to engage them, encourage them and mentor them.
In our current meeting model, the ASA assigns the hotel where the SNACC meeting will be held. Therefore, SNACC has no control over the selection of our meeting location. The rooms where workshops, symposia and poster sessions are held are all allocated to us almost one year in advance with limited options for change based on our current year’s program requirements. SNACC just has to make do with our assigned hotel and plan our meeting around our room allocations. Yes, the poster sessions are noisy! However, we have limited negotiating ability in our current model that allow for changes in space allocation such that we can work to reduce the noise during poster sessions. In addition, at the 2017 meeting, there was not enough space in the room to accommodate the people who wanted to attend the Thursday afternoon session on Fluid Therapy. This is because the Thursday afternoon sessions have to be planned and attendance limited based primarily on the size of the rooms allocated to us rather than on our goal to allow the best opportunity to all attendees. Flexibility in space allocation may have attenuated this. Additionally, our assigned hotel knows that we have no other choice for a meeting space. Therefore, the hotel is often willing to only minimally negotiate with SNACC. That means that we have limited capacity to negotiate room rates for attendees, the size of reserved room blocks and other costs during the meeting.
Each year, we are finding greater and greater difficulty attracting industry sponsorship for our Annual Meeting. Industry sponsorship is a key factor that helps to significantly offset the cost of meeting registration for attendees. Industry exhibitors have shared their reluctance to extend their time at the ASA meeting to exhibit at the SNACC meeting. My role in planning the 2017 SNACC Annual Meeting was the coordination of industry sponsorship. I heard the same story from multiple new and prior industry contacts, “Why should I spend two extra nights for an expensive hotel room when I could reach my target audience at the ASA?” Although there may be some misconceptions here, our current meeting model is potentially serving as a barrier for industry support. I reached out to all vendors at the 2017 meeting and, unanimously, they told me that changing our meeting by holding a meeting independent of the ASA Annual Meeting would likely improve industry sponsorship.
I really do not want to make this discussion solely about money. However, finances are an important factor in this decision. First, SNACC’s total assets are currently about $300,000 and have been approximately that amount for the last few years. SNACC is really not a very wealthy society! It costs our society about $250,000 to $300,000 to run our Annual Meeting. Despite an increase in the attendance, SNACC continually loses money on the Annual Meeting because of the high variable food and beverage expenses, limited negotiation ability with the hotel, and low industry support. This is true despite significant efforts behind the scenes to reduce expenditures at the meeting and also increase meeting attendance. At our upcoming 2018 meeting in San Francisco, SNACC stands to lose between $30,000-$50,000 despite an excellent scientific program (including a Nobel laureate speaker), expected increased attendance, and significant efforts on our part to reduce costs! This current model is just not sustainable.
SNACC’s goal is not to make a profit from our Annual Meeting. However, a continued loss of money will make it very difficult for SNACC to keep our membership and meeting registration rates low, provide educational and other resources for our members, and make it impossible for SNACC to contribute toward awards such as the William L. Young Research Award. Our long-term goal for the latter is to provide a significant monetary award to support younger researchers to forward the mission of SNACC. Frankly, SNACC has a responsibility to encourage, mentor and support the future generation of perioperative neuroscientists to assure the success of our subspecialty. It has been increasingly difficult to accomplish this with the current model for our Annual Meeting in place.
Some have suggested that these issues could be resolved if we went rogue and found our own hotel in the same city as the ASA meeting. Yes, it is true that it would possibly increase our ability to negotiate with the hotel for room space, food costs and room rates for attendees. However, this model would not address the issues with our current tight meeting schedule, long days and a family unfriendly meeting. Also, most of the larger hotels in the ASA city are held for the ASA leaving a limited selection or requiring some travel between the SNACC hotel and the ASA meeting, something that may not be accomplished with the ASA-provided bus system. Thus, it would fix some but not all of the current issues.
Now, the plan! We are planning to hold our 2019 Annual Meeting in the fall. We are currently trying to select a date range that will not conflict with other meetings or holidays. We have discussed pairing up with another society for a joint or tandem meeting or pairing up with an institution and ask that they serve as meeting hosts while holding the meeting in their home city. We will consider these options for future SNACC meetings. However, for 2019, we are planning to hold a truly stand-alone meeting. We are anticipating a meeting of 2.5 days in duration but consisting of shorter days. We are hoping to incorporate new formats for delivery of scientific content and both formal and informal sessions that would allow for social networking. Honestly, our whole goal is to continue to provide a meeting with a strong scientific program at a reasonable cost for attendees. However, this new format will allow for options that are currently difficult or impossible to offer. We are hoping that the 2019 meeting will be the best SNACC meeting in history!The Board is committed to serving SNACC and its members. We are also committed to a strong relationship with the ASA as well as other US and international neuroscientific societies. We will be working hard to make this change successful and we look forward to your support in our endeavors. We always welcome your ideas and suggestions. Please keep being engaged and let us know how we can serve you better.