There are few things that keep me awake at night. Raising teenagers is one example, but fortunately is totally unrelated to the subject at hand. One of the worst nightmares for an executive director is the dream that the AASV staff shows up for the annual meeting but nobody else does. So there we stand, all broken-hearted because nobody cared enough to show up. Lucky for me, this is not a dream I have very often.
To me, one of the most important member benefits for AASV members is the opportunity to attend the annual meeting in March. This opportunity has been in place for 41 years. Currently our attendance remains strong, but that does not just happen by itself. The planning for the program begins in early June. A committee is formed each year by the AASV president-elect who serves as the program chair. It would be a daunting task if faced alone, but each year the committee demonstrates an astonishing ability to put together an excellent offering of continuing education for swine veterinarians.
The committee usually discusses all aspects of the meeting. One common discussion is the structure of the 4 days over which the meeting is held. Common items include scheduling of the seminars, the general sessions, and the concurrent sessions. The AASV annual meeting structure has been tweaked over the years to arrive at its current configuration. Since its beginning, sessions have been added, including the Saturday and Sunday seminars (aka workshops), Student Seminar, Industrial Partners Sessions, and the poster sessions. Each committee has strived to change the meeting to meet the needs of its attendees.
The Saturday-through-Tuesday schedule has been in place for many years. An ongoing question concerns whether or not these are the correct days to have a meeting for swine veterinarians. To date, the planning committees have agreed to leave this schedule in place, but there are other opinions. There is one constraint on changing this schedule. The AASV contracts with hotel meeting sites about 4 years in the future. Thus, the dates for 2011 were set in 2007. Changes to the dates would be difficult in nearby years, but possible for later years. With advance planning, changes could be made.
A challenge for the planning committee and chairman is to design a program that has a strong appeal for attendees to stay through the end of the meeting on Tuesday. Many years ago, the meeting did not end until Tuesday afternoon. Due to many factors, including travel schedules of attendees, Tuesday afternoon was eliminated from the meeting so that it now ends at noon on Tuesday. Despite this change, attendance still wanes on Tuesday.
Comments have been made about the length of the meeting, especially in light of the company-sponsored events on the Friday before the meeting starts. I can understand the need for attendees to get home and back to their practices. I can also understand the feelings of speakers on Tuesday morning who work hard to prepare a presentation only to find a less-than-full house waiting to gain that knowledge. Put yourselves in those speakers’ places – empathy is a virtue oft forgotten!
This year in Omaha there were a number of excellent presentations on Tuesday morning. One that stands out was delivered by Bruce Vincent, entitled “With vision, there is hope.” If you missed that presentation because you left the meeting early, then you missed an inspiring message delivered by a passionate speaker. It was a message that should be heard and seen by every veterinarian in the pork industry. Lucky for you, it was video recorded and is available on the AASV web site. However, to be honest with you, the video does not do Mr. Vincent’s presentation justice. You should have been there!
Another question arises: How much education is too much? A comment heard at the meeting is “My brain can only handle so much information! By Tuesday I am in shut-down mode!” I can commiserate with this attendee. Some attendees like a wide number of choices: more seminars and concurrent sessions to pick from. Some attendees would like less choice with fewer educational offerings. Most years, the committee tries to hit the middle of the bell curve with the number of topics, seminars, and sessions.
So what are the answers? The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t have them! Neither do the AASV officers and board members (at least not all of the answers!). The answers will be found among the members of AASV, both those who attend the annual meeting and those who attend infrequently or not at all. Information from both categories is needed. Without knowing why you do or do not attend the meeting, we cannot be at our best in accomplishing our mission of increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians. You need to tell us what you like and dislike, as well as new ideas to consider and try. Every year a survey is offered to members concerning the annual meeting. A larger number of respondents is needed in order to provide a more representative sample. Your sharing is vital for informed decision-making and to ensure that I don’t lose any sleep! Then all I have to worry about are those teenagers!
-- Tom Burkgren, DVM