By Ilana Yurkiewicz, MD

My first question was critical: What kind of gifts will ASH-a-Palooza bear this year?

Formerly known as “Trainee Day,” the now reinvented ASH-a-Palooza was a half-day, interactive tour de force of learning, networking, and mentorship. There were also, of course, goodies, including red blood cell squeeze toys, ASH-themed bag tags, and pins.

I attended my first ASH-a-Palooza in 2018 as a first-year fellow. Quickly I was overwhelmed by the spirit and enthusiasm of the presenters and the engagement of the audience, ranging from fellows to residents to medical students and aspiring trainees. What united them all was a passion for hematology, and I was excited to see how 2019 would be different.

This year easily lived up to the hype. ASH-a-Paloo- za 2019 was held at the beautiful Topgolf driving range across from the North Building of the Orange County Convention Center. Trainees from all over gathered for learning and fun in perfect 75-degree Orlando weather.

When I arrived, I was greeted by something new: headsets. Each talk is incredibly popular, so this year attendees were provided headphones so they could tune in to the talk of their choice and catch every word, undeterred by large crowds.

Blood Drops delivered five-minute rapid-fire talks, each offered twice in case you missed the first one. Attendees learned about a range of high-yield topics including disease-modifying agents in sickle cell disease (SCD) from Sophie Lanzkron MD, MHS, of Johns Hopkins University, careers in pharma from Relja Popovic, PhD, of AbbVie, and physician wellness from Tait Shanafelt, MD, from Stanford University.

In between sessions, attendees could drop by HEM FYI information booths spotlighting women and minorities in hematology, careers in government relations, and two hands-on demo tables to practice bone marrow biopsies and lumbar punctures. They could also liaise with attendings sharing similar clinical or research interests during the Blood Buddies “speed mentoring” sessions, as well as enjoy Topgolf food: sliders, salads, cookies, and more.

At the top of the hour were three 20-minute ASH Talks, modeled after TED talks, held at the center of the Topgolf driving range. The first speaker, Shauna Whisenton, Manager of SCD Community Engagement at the ASH Research Collaborative SCD Clinical Trials Network, spoke poignantly about her own journey with SCD and entering a clinical trial that allowed her to receive a bone marrow transplant from her then 9-year-old son. The transplant cured her of the disease, and she concluded by calling her son out to the driving range where they embraced. When she first learned a cure could await her, “I didn’t think it was possible,” she said.

The second talk by Marc Kahn, MD, MBA, of Tulane University, was on the art of negotiation. “The most important part of any negotiation is information,” he said, explaining how when information is unbalanced and asymmetric, it provides you with a negotiation advantage. Dr. Kahn also reminded us that salary is not the only thing we can negotiate. It is important to think also about things like protected time, office space, and support staff.

Finally, Lilian Sung, MD, PhD, of the Hospital for Sick Children spoke about leadership. Sharing her own inspiring journey into leadership that began with “a cup of coffee” that changed her life, she imparted three lessons: Everyone in the audience was already a leader; leadership matters; and everybody can become a better leader through time, practice, training, mentorship, and introspection.

It was a powerful start to the 2019 ASH Annual Meeting. The day was diverse, as was the audience. I finally left the event — my bag stuffed with brochures, business cards, and wonderful ASH-themed gifts.

But I can’t help recalling the best gift of all — Watching trainees become excited about hematology.                                                                                                                                                

Dr. Yurkiewicz indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.

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