This is the fifth and final post in our “Executive Perspectives” series where we talk to association executives about opportunities and challenges the pandemic presented, how they’re creating value for their members and what lies ahead.
In this interview, we sat down with Angela Keyser, executive director for the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM).
One of the strongest values of any organization is the community they help facilitate. The nearly 10,000 members of AAPM rely on the six-decades-old association for resources like continuing education credits, exposure to vendors, and connections with their peers. Each of these opportunities makes a difference in the careers and day-to-day lives of the medical physicists AAPM serves.
For AAPM, the shift into a virtual world meant a bigger reliance on the various relationships they had cultivated over the years to help carry them through. Through strong partnerships and the resilience of their members, AAPM came out of the pandemic with a stronger sense of community than ever before.
Leveraging Long-Term Relationships
For AAPM, the pandemic hit fairly abruptly. With one of their smaller annual meetings planned in April of 2020, they had to rapidly change the way they would operate. What was once a well-oiled machine became a hectic race to solve many unknown factors, adjust budget expectations and find new virtual solutions.
“Fortunately, our team has been in this business for a long time, and we had a lot of long-standing partnerships that we were able to work with in order to make our meetings happen. There was a sudden high demand for digital vendors, and the bandwidth of these organizations was limited. Because we were already working with some of these companies, like Projection, they were flexible, and we kept our place in line.”
AAPM also leveraged partnerships with venues and registration companies to avoid cancellation penalties. Of course, every association had to find new options for the unprecedented needs brought on by the pandemic, but leaning in to the expertise and trust built amongst tried-and-true partners provided a solid foundation.
Ultimately, the 2020 and 2021 meetings were highly successful, breaking attendance records and allowing members to come together in a novel way.
Leaning Into Change
Like many groups, AAPM had considered virtual options prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They had captured thousands of hours of video that became available about two months after each event and also offered an online bulletin board for community interaction. Digital wasn’t anything new, but a fully remote event seemed like a far-away goal.
“We had been talking about remote access to the annual meeting for years, but the limits of our technology and the expense of change were holding us back. The pandemic forced the issue, causing us to pivot before we were really ready, but in my opinion, although it was very stressful for our volunteer program directors and our staff, it was ultimately a good thing. The bar has been raised and our members have a higher expectation about what we can offer them.”
The virtual format helped AAPM reach a new audience that had not previously been participating in meetings. In a world that is changing at a more rapid pace than ever, the move to incorporate more remote solutions is allowing AAPM to evolve along with the needs of their members.
Educating Audiences on the Value of Virtual
“Early on, people wondered why we needed to charge for virtual meetings. They assumed that we were covering the cost of a Zoom license, and all of our other expenses had somehow just faded away. Not everyone realizes the cost that goes into technology and personnel for a remote or hybrid meeting. In a lot of ways, it is more challenging and time consuming, and the cost has to reflect that.”
If we learned anything from the pandemic in this industry, it is that remote opportunities are not less valuable because they are remote. Scientists are still able to present their work when circumstances otherwise may have prevented them from doing so in-person. Participants still have access to the full range of resources AAPM and the presenters have to offer, and the ability to earn valuable CEUs. In order for a digital experience to run smoothly and have as much interactivity as possible, the organization has to run what amounts to two separate meetings simultaneously.
Even as they return to live events with a virtual component, AAPM has taken care to address this question. Members must understand the differences between attending in person vs. attending from home or the office. There are different advantages to both. In person, there are invaluable networking opportunities and community participation the medical physicists will not get sitting at their desk. However, an organization can save a lot of money by not paying travel costs, and the schedule can be much more flexible. This balance is something that each attendee has to weigh on their own.
The future is still uncertain, but one thing that will not change for AAPM is a dedication to providing a community space – both virtually and in-person – for members to find whatever they need to further their professional goals.
More from “Executive Perspectives”
[Part One] with Kerry Crockett, CEO of Insurance Accounting and Systems Association (IASA)
[Part Two] with Beth Hayson, associate executive director of continuing education and meetings & exhibitions at the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS)
[Part Three] with Jennifer Tomb, CAE, CEM, CMP, Director of Meetings and Exhibits for the American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
[Part Four] with Jay Brodsky, former Chief Digital Officer for the American Geophysical Union (AGU)