conducted by Michiel Tent on 17 April 2021
Dr James Stevens has been a private practicing neurologist and specialist in sleep disorders medicine at the Fort Wayne Neurological Center for 32 years. He completed his 2-year term as president during the 2021 virtual edition of the AAN annual meeting, where he was succeeded by Dr Orly Avitzur, MD, MBA, FAAN, who holds office in Tarrytown and Carmel, New York. On the meeting’s first day, Dr Stevens discussed organising this meeting and shared some personal highlights with Medicom.
How has the AAN 2021 meeting been faring thus far?
“Fantastic! It has exceeded our expectations. When we first realised that our meeting needed to be totally virtual due to the pandemic, we expected about 7,000 attendees. But even before the meeting started, we already exceeded 12,000 registrations. The technology involved is cutting edge; reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.”
The downsides of a virtual meeting are obvious. What are the upsides?
“The scientific and educational content is still of the highest quality. You can attend at your convenience and at you leisure, without paying for a flight, hotel room, and restaurants. Anyone who misses a session of his interest, can go to the rewind section to access scientific and educational content until 1 month after the meeting.
Still, nothing can truly replace the face-to-face interaction with others. But we try to do our best by offering a very creative networking area at our meeting. There you can connect with people from all over the world who have a common interest in your area of research or study, or whom you can contact about specific subjects such as leadership, or making your way through your training, for example.”
Which presentations would you specifically like to draw attention to?
“Anyone who is new to the meeting and wants an excellent overview of the latest in science and in our knowledge, should focus on the plenary sessions [as this conference report primarily does]. For example, a hot topics plenary session deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, with updates for neurologists by Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, and by Dr Walter Koroshetz, Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.”
As a specialist in sleep disorders medicine, what is the most exciting news at the meeting?
“There are exciting advances and new therapeutics in the treatment of patients with narcolepsy. There are also advances in the area of sleep apnoea, among others. Furthermore, we are learning about the overall importance of sleep, which affects our health, well-being, and longevity. So, a lot of information comes out of this meeting concerning sleep, which is critically important for the medical community as a whole.”
Do you think the pandemic will forever change the way meetings like the AAN 2021 are organised?
“Without a doubt. From now on, meetings like ours are likely to always provide the opportunity to attend virtually as well as in person. This offers the advantage of having a tremendous reach across the globe, and to enable access for people who are unable to make all the necessary travel arrangements.”
What have been the biggest challenges of your presidency?
“When I started my term 2 years ago, we had a retreat with a futurist. He helped us envision scenarios for the future, from the very optimistic, down to the abject disaster. But we did not foresee anything like the disastrous pandemic we have seen. Neurological practices had to close; as neurologists we had to pivot to delivering virtual healthcare. Medical education changed dramatically, turning from hands-on instructions to e-learning. Still, the AAN set records for membership and member satisfaction; and financially we are healthy.”
Your term as president of the AAN draws to a close. How do you look back on it and what message would you have to your successor?
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have led the AAN through these challenging, unprecedented times. What I would say to my successor Dr Orly Avitzur, who is very capable and accomplished, is that there are always solutions – no matter how challenging and difficult things look. It is through persistence and determination that she will find these solutions. The talented AAN staff and the neurologic community are more than willing to help and find them. As AAN president, she will ‘knock it out of the park’.”
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