In-Person vs. Virtual vs. Hybrid: An International Perspective on CV Meetings

I recently attended my first major international cardiovascular conference in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the same time, I had to also decline an interesting in-person speaking opportunity, as time off work and logistics of traveling would just not be feasible.

As an early career cardiologist, it can be difficult to navigate meeting choices, and indeed making the most of it. This is even more complicated given the uncertainties in this peri-pandemic era, and particularly for international attendees with multiple long-haul flights and who require visas for travel to most countries.

When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, in-person cardiovascular meetings were cancelled, and switched to fully virtual programs. The pandemic tested our ability to pivot in many ways, including the way education was delivered. We all struggled somewhat to speak, listen, and interact during those initial Zoom meetings and switch to virtual platforms. In the strangest of ways, COVID-19 also facilitated a levelling of the playing field – suddenly, we no longer needed to decline invitations to speak or withdraw abstracts and poster submissions citing inability to travel, leave from work, or finances. The increasing use of social media led to more global collaborations, and the creation of even more opportunities to present. With everybody delivering their (mostly pre-recorded) talks from their office or living rooms, all you needed was a good internet connection, and some time, to be an active participant at an international meeting. With travel out of the equation, this led to more early career physicians, especially from low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC) being able to present their abstracts, cases and posters. Aside from the difficult task of having to deliver patient care during an unprecedented global pandemic, paradoxically, by not having to decline, 2020 and 2021 turned out to be my most productive years, academically.

But, in the midst of the burst of webinars and speaking opportunities, there was also a looming element of “Zoom fatigue,” and moreover, the need to be with colleagues in-person. It’s no surprise that the advent of live meetings this year was more than welcome. I was also determined to make the most of it – I took the time, during my flight, to maximize the utility of the conference app to organise programming, and slotted in time to prepare for my own commitments, as well as meeting friends and networking.

As an early career, networking is crucial to building friendships among colleagues, collaborations for projects, identifying prospective mentors, and an important component of in-person meetings. The ACC Early Career International Work Group has hosted pre-conference mix and mingle events for virtual networking among peers from across the globe. However, there is no substitute to the connections made at real-world meetings; nor is there a substitute to live presentations, talks and interactions with experts in the field. “Standing room only,” a phenomenon that we had long forgotten, was back. Pin-drop silence, gasps from the crowd: a virtual transmission on Zoom does not even compare to the spectacle that is a much-awaited late-breaking trial presentation at an in-person meeting. Speaking of making the most of it, I also scheduled onward travel to a smaller dedicated one-day meeting in a nearby city, before returning home.

A live in-person format undoubtedly provides for a superior learning and sharing experience than virtual meetings. There’s nothing quite like being in the room where it happens, but as we navigate early career, amidst the increasing number of in-person meetings it’s also vital to choose smartly when deciding which meetings to go to, maximizing value in terms of time, speaking opportunities, skills development, and networking. This is precisely why there is still so much value in hybrid meetings, particularly for early careers, and those from LMIC. Travel, leave from work and finances are more difficult to navigate than we’d like to admit. Granted that a live virtual transmission can be a logistically challenging to execute, conference organisers still ought to re-think the concept of hybrid meetings as the norm, rather than the exception. We could definitely do with retaining some of the useful elements gained during this pandemic.

This article was written by F. Aaysha Cader, MD, MRCP, an interventional cardiologist at Ibrahim Cardiac Hospital & Research Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Twitter: @aayshacader

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