Late breakers and plenaries aside, a few perennial AHA conference sessions are, I think, often overlooked:
Early Career Sessions. Not just for early career folk, these sessions allow any attendee to hear scientific luminaries talk about why and how they do what they do. Where else might you catch Joe Loscalzo describing how the early research career often includes a period of “darkness,” among other periods that sound suspiciously like Kubler-Ross stages of grieving? Of course, he’s not trying to depress the audience but simply explaining how hard it is to do scientific research — and that people are not alone in feeling this way. Point taken.
Young Investigator Sessions. Where early career investigators present their cutting edge research in a competition format. This is where you might catch future research luminaries in their youth. The presentations are always impressive, thanks to intense preparation and coaching from mentors. At the end of each talk, the presenters field on-the-spot questions from faculty judges. The questions are often tougher than those asked of late-breaking trial presenters. Fewer fireworks but a lot more guts — like college versus pro basketball.
Laennec Session. Although technically a part of the young investigators sessions, this one deserves special mention. I go to the Laennec session at every AHA that I attend. This is where you get to hear amazing clinical cases, the kind that make you reminisce about fellows’ report. I can’t think of another national forum where you get to see great cases presented, beginning to end, and then discussed by preeminent clinical faculty. I don’t think I’ll ever get too old for this one. Where else would you hear a panelist ask the presenter, “Can you explain Kussmaul’s sign?”
Circulation Editors’ Choices. Here’s where you’ll hear about what the Circulation editors regarded as some of the most important research published in the past year — across all journals, including some that not every cardiologist has time to read (e.g., Nature Medicine). After each senior author presents his or her paper, the editor discussant often doesn’t shy away from pointing out both weaknesses and obvious strengths of the research (warning: occasional fireworks). Another bonus is the chance to hear about background and additional analyses that never made it into the published article. But what I like best about this session is the emphasis on how the research should or should not be incorporated into patient care. And reasons listed for “should not” are often more than enough to dampen any “occulo-stenotic” like reflex to put every positive finding into practice.
These four types of sessions come early in the conference and are often missed, probably in part because they’re usually buried in the thin sections at the front of print program — before the “real” sessions are listed. Unlike for many main sessions, though, this content isn’t easily reproduced in abstracts, press releases, or on YouTube. So, if you’re attending the AHA in person, consider checking them out.
And, of course, if there are additional sessions that you think I’ve missed, I would love to hear about them.