COVID-19 and the regulations around social distancing has affected an increasing number of events across Australia, including the yearly gathering of radiation therapy experts at TROG Cancer Research’s Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM)

Whilst many organisers have chosen to cancel or reschedule larger events, TROG Cancer Research was one of the first to take a progressive approach in response to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Across 16-19 March 2020 more than 345 of Australia and New Zealand’s leading radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation therapists, interventional radiologists, medical physicists and clinical trials personnel attended a full program of workshops and presentations by logging in from home.

CEO of TROG Cancer Research, Susan Goode said the virtual ASM was a huge success and received positive feedback from attendees.

“The decision to go virtual was not taken lightly and was made during early discussions around social distancing. Whilst the government hadn’t yet put into place recommendations around event sizes, we simply couldn’t take the risk of coronavirus spreading through our delegates, speakers and teams,” Susan said.

“The wider implications of coronavirus exposure could have resulted in a significant proportion of the radiation oncology workforce in Australia being placed in isolation for two weeks. That would have had devastating consequences for the care of cancer patients across Australia.”

Co-Convenor of the ASM and TROG Board Director, Dr Puma Sundaresan said whilst there was the option to reschedule the event to protect attendees, the ASM provides a valuable forum for colleagues in the industry to collaborate, share ideas and progress cancer research which can have positive implications globally.

“The show must go on and challenges like this just mean we need to rethink the way we’ve always done things,” Puma said.

“The virtual ASM provided a vital testing ground and successfully demonstrated that collaboration and large-scale events can happen in a digital format with lower environmental footprints, even with minimal lead-up time to make those arrangements.”

Annette Haworth is a Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Sydney and was one of the 345 who attended this year’s TROG Cancer Research ASM and said whilst she was skeptical initially of the new approach, after attending the ASM she can confidently say that she is glad it went ahead.

“Keeping abreast of advancements in our field and efforts that are in place to improve the lives of our cancer patients must continue, despite the current demanding situation around COVID 19,” Annette said.

“The virtual meeting provided an opportunity to be briefed on advancements in our field whilst at the same time deal with the emergency situations that were developing within our workplaces. The event organisers were absolutely fantastic in holding our hands through the technology, so all I had to do was concentrate on the presentations and chairing one of the sessions.

“The latter task was an interesting experience, now I know what its like to be a radio host – talking to a crowd of people you can’t see!”

Susan’s advice to other organisers reviewing their options around rescheduling or reformatting their events is to think outside the box.

“For us, bringing the world brain together to progress cancer research ideas and solutions far outweighed the decision to cancel the event. Who knows, this might be a progressive way forward for our industry as well as many others,” Susan said.

“With the vast technological solutions now available to us, there’s no time like now to start embracing opportunities in the digital space. After all, it is often through adversity that the greatest ideas come to the forefront.”

TROG Cancer Research’s ASM was initially scheduled to be held at the Sydney International Convention Centre over the same dates – 16 – 19 March 2020.

TROG Cancer Research is a global leader in cancer research and one of the largest clinical trial groups in Australia and New Zealand.

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