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Attending Virtual Oncology Conferences

In the past few weeks, I have attended both the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) annual meeting and the COA (Community Oncology Alliance) annual meeting -- no travel needed since both were held virtually. They were interesting experiences and very different from live oncology conference attendance.

Impressed by these virtual conferences

Don’t get me wrong, these virtual conferences were done very well, especially given the short amount of time planners must have had to transition from live formats. In both situations, agendas were sent out ahead of time and it was relatively easy to find the sessions I wanted to attend. It was even possible to ask questions following sessions with virtual Q&As, allowing attendees to submit questions through a chat function.

I still enjoy mingling and meeting in person

However, I truly missed the live interaction. One of the most important parts of conference attendance, I believe, is the networking that takes place. Usually, whenever I am attending a conference, I schedule meetings with oncologists, researchers or members of industry during the free time I have when I’m not viewing a session. As an advocate, conferences are such a great opportunity to meet with important knowledge leaders in lung cancer because everyone is in the same place!

In addition to scheduled meetings, I enjoy the informal networking that is also possible at live conferences. It’s great to wander through the aisles of poster presentations and talk to the researchers about their work. Posters are still part of virtual conferences, but they come with pre-recorded talks about the information presented instead. Evening events and receptions in live conferences are also important ways to network more informally, which are, of course, not possible in a virtual setting.

There is a big plus to virtual meetings

There is one HUGE plus to virtual conferences for advocates/patients however. Most of these conferences are now free of charge! While I have attended the AACR annual meeting twice in the past through the Scientist-Survivor program which paid for my travel and registration, COA does not have a similar program and I would never have been able to attend COA because of these expenses. As a co-founder of the EGFR Resisters, it was very helpful for me to be part of the COA annual meeting and learn more about the challenges and educational needs of community oncology practitioners. The EGFR Resisters hope to become further involved in this organization in the future in order to improve outcomes for patients treated in all locations.

It was also easier for me to share information from these virtual conferences via Twitter than it is in live conferences. I usually only have my iPad and phone with me when attending conferences because it is too much to carry around a computer at an all day meeting. Sitting at home with my computer, I found it very easy to take screenshots of important information and drop this directly into Twitter to communicate with the rest of the lung cancer community. I was able to use any time I had between sessions to finalize my tweets since I didn’t need to worry about crossing a huge conference center to find my next session!

Investigate upcoming oncology conferences

For the short term, virtual oncology conferences are here to stay. I encourage any lung cancer patient who is interested in research to investigate upcoming conferences to see if they are offering free attendance. It’s a great opportunity to get involved without needing to leave your home!

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