A giant American flag, patriotic theme music, and a team of forensic dentists who served on the front lines at Ground Zero made the message clear at the annual meeting of the Ohio Dental Association, which kicked off September 12, 2002, in Columbus. The emotional audience gave a standing ovation to the Ohio professionals for their efforts in identifying the remains of World Trade Center attack victims.
The patriotic theme threaded through the entire three-day event, with flags flanking the entrance of the exhibit hall and a large flag in the main convention center corridor. “Everything was done very respectfully,” says Susan Payne, director of special events and projects. Deciding exactly how to observe the anniversary and honor the forensic dentists wasn't easy, Payne admits. “It was a most interesting process — Do we do too much? Do we do too little? — but we were happy with the mix we had.” After weathering personal losses in the past few years, Payne says she is keenly aware of how individuals process tragedy differently, and that awareness influenced her plans for this year's meeting.
Payne says 9/11 made her reassess her contingency plans. In the past, she didn't bother asking for speakers' home and cell phone numbers or spouses' names; now she does. And she stays current on the pool of regional speakers that she can tap if air travel becomes difficult.
Organizers of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals' annual meeting in Denver, which started September 11, kept observations of the date low-key. “We did small things throughout the day,” says Amy Swann, director of education for the Washington, D.C.-based association. “The biggest thing we did was during the keynote address when the board chair made an acknowledgement, a thank you for traveling this week, and a moment of silence.”
ARHP has historically scheduled its annual meeting during the second week of September, but Swann says the events of a year ago may alter that pattern. “We're trying to gauge people's willingness to travel on those dates in the future,” she says. On a personal level, Swann says that living in D.C. through the attack on the Pentagon gives the date more meaning to her. “On the anniversary, I kind of had a flashback feeling, and I would have liked to be with my family,” she admits.
Refocus on Family
Kathy Mauck wasn't surprised when the usual number of physicians showed up for the American Society for Clinical Pathology's five-day course in Chicago, despite the fact that the dates fell around the anniversary of September 11.
“These people are pretty solid, dedicated folks who will continue to do their jobs, and they're not going to let terrorists get the better of them and stop their lives,” she observes.
While she admits that it may sound trite, Mauck says the biggest post-September 11 professional challenge has been logistical. “People can't give a lecture and dash out to the airport and get home that day. That makes them hesitate before accepting a speaking engagement.”
Personally, the terrorist attacks only reinforced a different outlook that Mauck had adopted the year before when faced with a personal health crisis. “It draws you up short, makes you reassess the priorities in your life, and refocus a little more on your family, taking advantage of opportunities, not putting things off so much.”
Ain't No Stopping Us Now
Amid the uncertainties of October 2001, shortly after their allergy conference in Turkey was canceled, registrants were asked to choose where to reschedule the event once conditions for travel improved. Seventy percent chose Turkey. That's how, shortly after the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, about 50 allergists convened at three universities in Turkey for the Washington University School of Medicine-sponsored Allergy Abroad.
“Most people said, ‘Go for it,’” recalls Gail Goodenow, RN, the school's director of CME. “The individuals that tend to travel with this program are not fearful of travel. You don't go walking into Iraq, obviously, but everyone knows the U.S. has a positive relationship with Turkey.”
Goodenow says attendance at this year's program, scheduled September 18 to 30, slipped about 30 percent. “Many of the physicians who did go thought about it being unsafe. But they wanted to go because it's an excellent scientific program, and once they got there, they realized how safe it was,” she says.
While the host universities all launched their programs by paying tribute to the group and showing empathy over the events of September 11, the official Allergy Abroad program did not include any specific mention of the date. “I think what we did was we went and showed that they're not going to stop us,” Goodenow says.