Research Horizons


PAS 2022: Exactly What My Soul Needed

Post written by Sonia Tang Girdwood, MD, PhD

The anticipation and excitement for the annual Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting, which took place April 22-25, 2022, had been palpable in the prior six months as trainees, staff and faculty members had proposals for special sessions and research abstracts accepted for presentation.

For many, this conference would be their first in-person conference since the start of the COVID pandemic. PAS 2020 was one of the first conferences that was cancelled due to the pandemic as travel restrictions were extended after initial shutdowns occurred that year.

Many were anxious and skeptical about attending this year’s meeting with the recent Omicron surge in January and with current variants still spreading–and these feelings were further exacerbated by the lifting of the mask mandate on flights and public transportation just days prior to the first pre-conference event. Some of those anxieties were mitigated by mandatory masking at the convention center and in the end, Cincinnati Children’s had an incredible showing.

I had the fortune of being at the Cincinnati Children’s booth in the exhibit hall on Friday and Saturday and at the Alumni Association reception on Saturday night where I was able to connect with current staff, trainees and faculty members, along with alumni and prospective trainees interested in continuing their post-graduate training with us. I had forgotten the absolute joy of talking about all that our institution has to offer while taking pictures with friends I hadn’t seen in years, often with a special appearance of my division director, Samir Shah, MD, MSCE, as #flatSamir. Nothing replaces the intimacy when engaging in conversation face-to-face, nor prepares you for the shock when you realize the person you’ve been meeting with for the last two years is a lot taller or shorter than you expected.

In addition to showcasing the scholarly work of all disciplines within pediatrics, PAS 2022 hosted multiple sessions that highlighted several major themes including racism in medicine and the mental health crisis. The meeting’s official opening session was kicked off by a keynote speech given by our own residency and fellowship alumnus, O. Ray Bignall, MD, a nephrologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a fearless advocate for children and trainees.

His talk entitled, “Why achieving health equity takes trust and guts,” emphasized the importance of building trust with our patients who have been subject to overt systemic racism in society and in medicine. To no one’s surprise, his talk concluded with a standing ovation from the audience.

In one highly attended session, Ndidi Unaka, MD, MEd, a faculty member in our Division of Hospital Medicine and Medical Director of Quality Improvement and Analytics at HealthVine, outlined changes in the American Board of Pediatrics curriculum to include anti-racism education in pediatrics.

Meghan Fanta, MD, a fellow in Hospital Medicine, shared her team’s findings on the disparities of utilization of social work consults among hospitalized patients as part of the American Academy of Pediatrics Presidential Plenary.

Many sessions at PAS highlighted the mental health crises that children and adolescents are currently facing, providing solutions for pediatricians on how to address them. I had the opportunity to contribute to the conversation through a career-defining moment when I co-chaired a hot-topic symposium on pharmacogenetics with our institution’s Department of Pediatrics Chair, Tina Cheng, MD, MPH.

Our session consisted of talks from my own personal role models in the field of pediatric clinical pharmacology: Tamorah Lewis, MD, PhD (The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto ON), Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD (Vanderbilt University Medical Center), Laura Ramsey, PhD (Cincinnati Children’s Divisions of Clinical Pharmacology and Research and Patient Services) and Valentina Shakhnovich, MD (Children’s Mercy Kansas City). The panelists discussed the evidence for pharmacogenetic testing of specific medications, including those widely prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.

Hearing these experts speak with such great clarity on a topic in which many pediatricians have not had formal training and to be on the same stage with them was an inspiration, especially when one audience member asked us to host this session on an annual basis. This experience has motivated me to learn more about the field and incorporate the speakers’ recommendations in my own practice.

One of the few positives that came out of the pandemic for me is the growth and success of an inter-institutional peer mentorship group, comprising of 12 junior faculty members from nine institutions who are all focused on obtaining career development awards in the field of Pediatric Hospital Medicine (PHM). PHM is a rapidly growing field but faculty with significant protected time to pursue grant-funded research remains a small percentage of all hospitalists nationwide. Having this group has helped me grow and be successful in my career and life goals.

Realizing we had a unique situation that could inspire others to form similar inter-institutional networks, we submitted a proposal for a workshop for participants to recognize the benefits of inter-institutional peer mentorship and to build an action plan to create a peer mentorship network. We were fortunate to have our workshop accepted and presented on the last day of the conference. Though attendance was small, it was incredible to watch new peer mentor relationships form between some participants, and for others to identify with whom they would connect at other institutions to form their network. While nothing can ever replace the bonds that form during in-person conversations, we hope that these networks will help sustain our participants between in-person conferences.

PAS 2022 was filled with incredible learning opportunities and each attendee left with their own individualized and unique take-aways. But I do think that the vast majority left Denver with a feeling of hope and are inspired to continue the great work they are already doing at our institution. PAS was exactly what my soul needed.

See Also: Kahn, Jain, Day Honored at PAS 2022