As 2020 winds down, Endocrine News is taking a quick jaunt down memory lane to focus on the many accomplishments the Endocrine Society had over the course of the last 12 months. Despite various obstacles and upended plans, 2020 turned out to be a remarkable year for progress and successful new endeavors.
We were somewhere on the edge of finalizing plans for ENDO 2020 in San Francisco, Calif., when the world pivoted to what many have referred to as the “new normal.” Suddenly there were masks and lockdown orders everywhere — along with a frantic rush of activity to change or cancel plans, to set up home offices, and download various telework and virtual classroom apps, to try for some sense of old normalcy.
And when it was quiet again, when the crushing reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, the Endocrine Society staff found that they were able to adapt to this new normal, to adopt new ways of working, and continue to make incredible strides supporting the Endocrine Society’s mission of promoting the practice and science of endocrinology and advancing healthcare overall around the world.
“Back in March, we made a commitment to our global community of endocrinologists and basic scientists that COVID would not keep us from providing them with the best of meetings, education, and community,” says Society interim chief executive officer Robert Lash, MD. “With ENDO Online, CEU/EBR, our COVID resources, and our virtual communities, our staff has gone above and beyond to meet that commitment. I’m so proud of the work they’ve done and the commitment they’ve demonstrated during a difficult time for everyone.”
If anything, this hectic past year proved that the Society staff comprises storytellers, innovators, dealmakers, and savvy policy experts. Endocrine Society staff are often rightly referred to as “unsung heroes.” Let’s sing their praises for a bit.
Breaking Attendance Records
This past year saw the rise of many technological innovations that allow many to continue to work and live in a kind of virtual reality. These pages have touched on many of those throughout 2020 — including the smash hit that ENDO Online 2020 turned out to be. More than 27,000 registrants and 17,000 attendees. More than 2,300 abstracts. Hard to beat those kinds of numbers, especially given the circumstances.
Here are some more numbers: The Endocrine Society’s first virtual Clinical Endocrinology Update (CEU) and Endocrine Board Review (EBR) meetings collectively attracted more than 1,700 global participants. CEU 2020 had more than 1,100 participants, and EBR 2020 had over 600, setting records for both meetings as the largest to date in the Society’s history.
But as Society chief learning officer Christopher Urena, MBA, CAE, says, “It’s not just about the number of attendees who participate at these meetings, it’s about ensuring we maintained the caliber of content our attendees expect and experience at our signature, in-person meetings.” CEU and EBR are renowned for high-quality content, as well as the forum in which participants can engage directly with experts during live Q&A.
“We led with the flexibility that comes with online learning, blending synchronous and asynchronous programming, and creating meaningful connectivity between participants and presenters,” Urena continues. “The pandemic forced us to experiment with alternative learning modalities and formats, and we’re discovering new and highly effective models. The most impactful learning experiences are those that impart lasting knowledge, skills, and connections. Despite format changes, our 2020 programs have proudly delivered on those tenets.”
It’s December, and the pandemic is entering its tenth month. The Endocrine Society has already announced an all-virtual ENDO 2021, and even in a post-COVID-19 world, virtual meetings won’t suddenly vanish. But neither will in-person meetings. “That’s one of the things I think we’ve learned from this, is when we get to the other side of COVID, yes many of us will meet back in person, but it’s going to look different,” Urena says. “What that exactly means is still to be determined; however, it’s fair to expect that hybrid formats will take a more dominant position and become commonplace.”
“Amidst the uncertainty this year, our staff has demonstrated innovation, creativity, and unwavering commitment to keep this organization running smoothly. Our ability to refocus our efforts in this virtual environment has enabled us to effectively operate and provide unique value to our members. The way we work has changed dramatically and will continue to be a challenge.” — Krista Kirk, chief of staff, Endocrine Society
Indeed, it remains a time of uncertainty, but in the meantime, the Endocrine Society’s meetings department continues to look to new methods of digital learning, from monthly webinars to certificate programs. Plenty to look forward to in 2021.
Just because people are meeting over webcams now doesn’t mean the Society’s work stopped or even slowed down — even on Capitol Hill. The Endocrine Society’s Government and Public Affairs team had to pivot to virtual advocacy, as they were informed on March 13 that the Capitol complex was closed by order of the Capitol physician. They were one of the last groups to go to the Hill for Researcher Hill Day before lockdown orders were in place. But on April 14, just a month after the closing announcement, the GPA team held a virtual Hill Day, which was able to attract more members to attend because they didn’t have to travel to Washington, D.C.
“We found out that people on the Hill were actually more interested to talk to us because they were also stuck in their apartments, and hearing from constituents who were back at home, who had eyes and ears on the ground and can say what was happening at the university or what was happening at this major health center, was very helpful to them,” says Society chief policy officer Mila Becker. “And we figured out how to train our members virtually by having Zoom prep calls.”
Becker continues by saying through these virtual meetings they were able to not only hear from clinician members about being reimbursed for telemedicine visits, they were also able to talk to a number of House and Senate members to and help them see that they should write the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to loosen restrictions for telemedicine reimbursements. “That was a direct result of us being there,” she says.
The GPA team influenced the Trump administration to extend the public health emergency so that many of these Medicare waivers could continue, and they continue to work with Congress on COVID-19 relief packages that would benefit physicians and researchers.
The GPA team continues to advocate for improved physician reimbursement and telehealth flexibilities during the pandemic. Society director of advocacy and policy Rob Goldsmith explains that the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way physicians provide care to patients. The Society has urged the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to adopt payment policies that address the longstanding challenges that endocrinologists have faced during this crisis. The Society also supports making many of the CMS telehealth flexibilities permanent. “Our members treat patients who are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and these flexibilities allow patients to continue to receive necessary care without unnecessary exposure to the virus,” Goldsmith says. “The Society submitted comments on a proposed rule issued by CMS that would address some of these concerns. We support the adoption of this rule which is expected to be finalized in December.” However, given the uncertainty of the pandemic this will continue to be a rapidly changing situation in the months ahead.
“We found out that people on the Hill were actually more interested to talk to us because they were also stuck in their apartments, and hearing from constituents who were back at home, who had eyes and ears on the ground and can say what was happening at the university or what was happening at this major health center, was very helpful to them.” — Mila Becker, chief policy officer, Endocrine Society
And while the GPA team keeps their eye on Congress, they’ve made sure not to take their focus off of the European Union as well, securing a win for the Society, as it has advocated for prioritization of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the European Union’s “Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment,” as part of the EU Green Deal. The strategy includes many key measures advocated by the Endocrine Society to protect the public and the environment from EDCs.
And again, this all played out in a virtual environment. “We were able to still set up meetings and conversations with EU policy makers, and in particular European Commission staff from several offices, as well as with the new Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, to talk about our priorities related to EDCs and how they should be incorporated into the new chemical strategy,” says Society director of science policy Joseph Laakso, PhD. “And that was largely a success.”
The GPA team look forward to using advancing the Society’s policy priorities in 2021. “We hope our members realize that advocacy is part of what they need to do, and we love working with them and we encourage them to reach out to us and join us,” Becker says.
Getting the Message Out
This past year certainly brought a lot of static with it, so it’s important for the Society to try to cut through the noise as best it can and share not just the stories of the important work the members do, but what the staff is up to as well. After all, what good really is a medical breakthrough or policy win if no one is aware of it.
One new way the Society’s communications department began disseminating these stories this past year is through its new artificial intelligence (AI)-driven newsletter, which launched in November. This newsletter seems to be a hit with members so far — the membership had to field calls asking where it was when the newsletter was delayed by a technical glitch one day.
“The resilience, dedication, and creativity of our staff, in collaboration with member leaders, have been exemplary in 2020, and the results have been outstanding. We have been and will continue to be nimble and adapt to the needs of our members, our patients, and the world as we move forward. Our continued courage and resilience will get us through this difficult time, and we will come out stronger as the new year dawns. Onward and upward.” — Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD, president, Endocrine Society
This AI-driven newsletter, when done well, is the simplest and most effective curator for delivering relevant content, according to the Society’s chief communications officer Aaron Lohr. “The end user doesn’t need to do anything other than read the articles that interest them,” he says. “The AI then evaluates a series of tags that accompany each article and curates future content delivery to include more articles that feature similar tags. Whether a reader is interested in advocacy, advances in science, clinical practice guidelines, or all of the above, their weekly newsletter will deliver more of that kind of content.”
And while the Society felt it was important to continue to share the most relevant stories, it felt it was also crucial to provide a virtual environment where members could share their own stories with each other — a kind of symposium where members can swap ideas, show off breakthroughs, or ask for help. The Endocrine Society’s new Community Connect platform has been used to facilitate ongoing engagement with members and provide a foundational platform to share webinars, says Rodneikka Scott, the Society’s director of membership. “This platform has allowed us to maintain connections with members around the globe,” she says. “The platform has also allowed for a virtual space where members could share resources like articles, science, and more.”
Sharing Endocrine Science
And speaking of sharing science, perhaps no vehicle is as important and necessary to the world of endocrinology than the Society’s publications department, which continued its long streak of innovation for journal authors and readers throughout 2020. At the beginning of the year, Endocrine Reviews introduced color graphical abstracts — redrawn by professional illustrators, these are a sure-fire way of promoting articles via social media and downloading for use in presentations.
The publications team also launched two new article types: Approach to the Patient in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) and Expert Endocrine Consult in Journal of the Endocrine Society (JES), with both offering in-depth discussion of the treatment of prismatic cases. And to ease the burden on authors, the team made manuscript submission to Society journals format-neutral, so authors can submit new manuscripts as a single Word, RTF, or PDF file; formatting is not required until after peer-review acceptance.
“The pandemic forced us to experiment with alternative learning modalities and formats, and we’re discovering new and highly effective models. The most impactful learning experiences are those that impart lasting knowledge, skills, and connections. Despite format changes, our 2020 programs have proudly delivered on those tenets.” — Christopher Urena, MBA, CAE, chief learning officer, Endocrine Society
This past year, Carol A Lange, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, took the helm as editor-in-chief at Endocrinology mid-year, and named as her deputy, Zane B. Andrews, PhD, of Monash University, who continues work to boost invited content. According to the publications team, Lange expanded the journal’s Early Career Reviewer mentorship program and reworked the Aims and Scope of Endocrinology to re-emphasize its focus on basic science, including molecular studies, stem cells, and tissue regeneration. Endocrinology authors who are Society members continue to receive the benefit of no page charges on the first eight pages of their articles; and color in Endocrinology is always free.
As pandemic shutdowns curtailed lab work, JES and Endocrinology promoted Brief Reports (up to 2,400 words) as a vehicle for quickly getting important research findings into the scientific literature. And JCEM editors re-worked the journal’s Aims and Scope to stress its expanded interest in conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and aging.
The Society’s journals serve a wide, diverse market. Institutional subscription sales remain steady, with over 7,750 paid subscriptions in 72 countries. That’s in addition to the approximately 8,000 non-profit research institutions in over 100 developing countries eligible for access to JCEM, Endocrinology, and Endocrine Reviews through these programs. Approximately 70% of eligible institutions are in Africa, 9% are in Europe, and the remaining 21% are distributed throughout South East Asia and Oceania, Asia, and South America. And JES, being open access, is free to view everywhere.
“Publications staff have worked closely with our editors, authors, and reviewers to accommodate those situations in which COVID-19 has had an impact on their duties and responsibilities,” the team writes. “With this feedback we have been able to continue with the same level of excellent peer review while providing needed support. In addition, we have asked for and received critical information from the members of the Publications Core Committee about their institutional experiences with COVID-19 across the globe, allowing us to anticipate additional shifts and provide extra support where needed.”
Prioritizing Strategic Partnerships
But all these wins and innovations might not be possible without some outside help, and thanks to the Society’s development and strategic partnerships team, in 2020, the Society added eight new industry partners — expanding membership in the Corporate Liaison Board to 30 — by implementing a proactive outreach strategy and enhancing the benefits of partnership.
Michel Farhat, PhD, the Society’s chief strategic partnerships officer tells Endocrine News that his team also adapted to the changing industry landscape by providing a yearlong, more diversified portfolio of programs (beyond the traditional focus on ENDO and CEU) to appeal to smaller companies with limited budgets. “This has helped enrich our library of content, especially in the rare endocrine disease area which traditionally has suffered from limited industry support,” he says. “Programs like ECHOs, webinars, podcasts, and patient educational tools have generated a heightened interest from many of our corporate sponsors operating in the rare disease space.”
Farhat goes on to say that collaboration with different stakeholders is a key priority for the Endocrine Society and a desired outcome for industry sponsors. This past year his team led a collaborative effort with key primary care associations, which helped deliver two key projects: a CGM patient pocket guide and a diabetes and cardiovascular disease curriculum. “Both deliverables were co-developed, endorsed, and disseminated by all participating organizations resulting in a more efficient, streamlined scientific content with a broader reach,” Farhat says.
“With ENDO Online, CEU/EBR, our COVID resources, and our virtual communities, our staff has gone above and beyond to meet that commitment. I’m so proud of the work they’ve done and the commitment they’ve demonstrated during a difficult time for everyone.” — Robert Lash, MD, interim chief executive officer, Endocrine Society
Onward and Upward
This strange year may be coming to a close, but again, it showed just how resilient a group of people can be when committed to these noble goals.
“Amidst the uncertainty this year, our staff has demonstrated innovation, creativity, and unwavering commitment to keep this organization running smoothly,” says Society chief of staff Krista Kirk. “Our ability to refocus our efforts in this virtual environment has enabled us to effectively operate and provide unique value to our members. The way we work has changed dramatically and will continue to be a challenge.”
Endocrine Society president Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD, agrees. “While nothing has been close to business ‘as usual’, with challenges come opportunities, and we have certainly made the best of these times,” he says. “The resilience, dedication, and creativity of our staff, in collaboration with member leaders, have been exemplary in 2020, and the results have been outstanding. We have been and will continue to be nimble and adapt to the needs of our members, our patients, and the world as we move forward. Our continued courage and resilience will get us through this difficult time, and we will come out stronger as the new year dawns. Onward and upward.”
— Bagley is the senior editor of Endocrine News. In the November issue, he wrote about how innovations in diabetes care were being spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic.