On the evening of June 18, 2012, sitting in my den at home, I reminisced about the previous 4 days at the 17th World Congress for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology (WCBIP). These days, which I had looked forward to for more than 6 years, had passed by in a blink!
The mission of every bronchoscopist’s career was the simple yet powerful theme behind the Congress: the “…pursuit of excellence in bronchoscopy.” I kept asking myself whether the Congress had fulfilled its goals.
Initial responses have been encouraging, prompting me to record some of the observations regarding this scientific event, as this was a major learning experience for both my team and me. I also consider this my tribute to the former presidents of the World Congresses, from whom I had learned and gained the confidence for the task.
The Congress hosted 865 attendees. Over 700 of these participants were medical personnel, hailing from 52 different countries on every inhabitable continent. Whereas the registrants from America led the pack (367), the Japanese and Indian attendees were a close second and third, respectively. I was ecstatic to receive delegates from Algeria, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovenia, Vietnam, and many others. Although our marketing efforts played a pivotal role, the Congress’ success spoke for the widespread popularity of bronchoscopy.
The potential of bronchoscopy is being recognized around the world. As I have always said, bronchoscopy, as a diagnostic, palliative, or therapeutic tool, contributes to the management of every pulmonary condition. Further, lung transplantation cannot succeed without a team of well-trained bronchoscopists.
The WCBIP is officially organized and sponsored by the World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology (WABIP) and by the International Bronchoesophagological Society (IBES), as well as by the members of these organizations. Interestingly, >60% of attendees belonged neither to WABIP nor to IBES or AABIP. The fact that the Congress attracted a significantly larger number of nonmembers to the meeting demonstrates the increasing interest among physicians in the field of bronchoscopy and interventional pulmonology and is testimony to the collective educational value of the Congress. We continue our joint efforts to increase membership in both societies.
If the Congress has been considered to have been successful, it is because of several factors. In my opinion, the support of a major institution for a World Congress of such a magnitude is mandatory. I was fortunate to have had the support of the Cleveland Clinic.
If possible, hosting the Congress should be assigned primarily to an institution to which the elected president belongs so that organizational and financial support is available when needed.
Having a financial guarantor for the Congress proved to be a major benefit. I had the full trust of the Chairman of the Respiratory Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, who authorized a budget of $1 million dollars. We budgeted for this amount on the basis of the collective vision of how we wanted to deliver this educational experience to the attendees. One of our primary objectives was to minimize the registration fee so that a larger number of our colleagues could participate. This necessitated a higher threshold of commercial support.
Good teamwork was also essential for the Congress’ success. I had strong support from the Cleveland Clinic CME department, which took care of all local formalities, including marketing and the application for the CME. In addition, the financial support of the WABIP and the AABIP was necessary and greatly appreciated.
We also received professional assistance, resulting in the 17th WCBIP gaining support from 34 exhibitors and 5 educational grants. At this point, I must express my sincere appreciation to Olympus, SuperDimension, Boston Scientific, Sanovas, NeilMed, and Spiration for their unconditional support, especially in these times of financial instability. The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) also stood by us, actively promoting the Congress, nationally and worldwide. The presence of the ACCP leadership was a strong morale booster for the organizing committee.
Moreover, the exemplary collaboration among the Advisory and Scientific Committees and the Committee of the Chairs was vital to presenting the best scientific program possible. The key note addresses, certainly the highlights of the Congress, were both suggested and approved by the Scientific Committee. The topics were current, and the speakers were the best of the best. Dr Jean Francois Dumon, the father of Interventional Pulmonology, was as humble as he was gracious in accepting the invitation and keeping the crowd together until the last hour of the Congress.
Each symposium Chair was responsible for choosing the topics and selecting the speakers, with little influence from the Congress president or vice presidents. In all, 120 speakers delivered 171 lectures, and 161 posters were presented. Most speakers gave 1 lecture, maintaining proper international perspective and balanced view points. Thirty-nine oral presentations (abstracts) were made a part of their respective symposia and received the enthusiastic, undivided attention of the group (http://www.wcbipwcbe2012.org).1
Even more intriguing was the overwhelming response to the nursing symposium. The symposium topics were simple yet practical, and our faculty members were homegrown and unknown internationally. Yet, the symposium was “standing room only.” It is imperative that educational organizations provide programs for our bronchoscopy assistants at every possible opportunity. We can be the best only if we can work with the best.
Six other hands-on workshops further supplemented the Congress and its educational value. It was no surprise that the EBUS-TBNA workshop was attended to full capacity.
Multiple challenges were surmounted, fund-raising being the most daunting. Yet, perseverance and personal contacts yielded positive results. We looked outside the box for support: book publishers, physician recruiters, tourism and medical organizations, and institutions. We never gave up on any potential supporters until the day of the conference and we appreciated all who supported us.
Financial profit was never our goal for the Congress. The goal was to deliver the highest quality scientific World Congress, as well as memorable social activities, without incurring major losses. We expressed our honorable motive to all interest groups and also received personal contributions.
I will never forget the moment when a participant, knowing the financial challenges of the Congress, handed me a personal check for $10,000! This extraordinary generosity speaks for the level of passion that exists for our specialty.
A number of the financial sponsors (Olympus, Boston Scientific, etc.) of the WCBIP have been constant supporters over the years. We believe that a long-term plan formed by these major players, in collaboration with the WABIP, could remove significant hassle and uncertainty from the process. The Congress should also garner feedback from exhibitors so that their return on investment could be more effective.
Organizers should develop cost reduction strategies before the first announcement is made. A program grid from one of the more successful World Congresses, a computerized abstract submission program, and a paperless “Program-Abstract Book” are several initiatives that could lead to substantial savings.
It was my honor to partner with the World Congress for Bronchoesophagology and to work side by side with Drs Thomas Rice and Paul Castellanos. As we move forward, both the WABIP and the IBES should define their respective roles and responsibilities, in order to further the field while reducing redundancy and expenses.
We were very fortunate that almost none of the invited faculty declined to participate. I am indebted to all faculty members, especially those who had flown in from abroad, for contributing their expertise unconditionally. Although a handful of speakers could not attend for a variety of reasons, their replacements did an admirable job under such a short notice.
The scientific content of the program clearly identified the indications for bronchoscopic interventions. The message was loud and clear: “Because it can be done does not mean it should be done.” Pulmonary interventions and related accessories can be expensive. Our community should remain ever vigilant in finding the most cost-effective measure for the welfare of patients.
Lung diseases are most prevalent in Third World countries. Our guidelines, consensus statements, and educational efforts should reflect international perspective and what is best for our patients, focusing on epidemiology and affordability. Thus, as we continuously pursue excellence in bronchoscopy, our patients will benefit the most from our achievements: the worthy aspiration of the 17th WCBIP and of each of us.
Cleveland, my home since the past 32 years, proved to be an excellent venue for this Congress. I hope the warmth and hospitality for which the US Midwest is known showed through (Fig. 1).
Organizing a World Congress is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I thank the board of regents of the WABIP for entrusting this responsibility to me. I do feel, however, that the 6-year period since the time of actual assignment for the Congress was very long. I was lucky to have sustained my enthusiasm, strength, professional status, and the support structure for the duration. I sincerely hope that the 17th WCBIP has taken a step forward “…in the pursuit of excellence in bronchoscopy.”
Atul C. Mehta, MBBS, FACP, FCCP