As meeting planners, we bring together brilliant minds on a regular basis — to teach, to learn, and to inspire. Some of these meetings attract much attention in the media as well. You may hear of new studies discussed on the morning news, or read of a controversial new finding in the pages of a prominent newspaper. But how often do you hear the president of a major medical association openly challenge government policy or military tactics, or present a compelling call to action for physicians to remain faithful to the Hippocratic Oath in difficult times?
Steven S. Sharfstein, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association, did just that when he stood in front of more than 20,000 mental health professionals and journalists from around the world during the American Psychiatric Association's recent annual meeting in Toronto to proclaim that psychiatry would not be used as a tool for interrogation or torture. The APA's position statement says that “psychiatrists should not participate in, or otherwise assist or facilitate, the commission of torture of any person.” Specifically, the APA said, psychiatrists should not be present in the interrogation room, ask or suggest questions, or advise authorities on the use of specific techniques of interrogation with particular detainees.
The APA's stand is a response to the situation at Guantánamo Bay. In June 2005, following troubling news accounts of alleged violations of professional medical ethics at the prison and other U.S. military sites, Sharfstein, along with representatives from other medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association, visited Guantánamo Bay to witness the involvement of medical professionals in prisoner interrogation. The APA then announced it would create specific, unambiguous guidelines on interrogation for psychiatrists and other physicians.
“This position statement clearly states that psychiatrists should not take part in the interrogation of detainees,” said Sharfstein in a press release. “The statement makes our roles as physician healers very clear and prohibits us from other roles that military or civilian authorities might want us to play.”
By delivering the position statement during the opening session, Sharfstein showed how meetings can reinforce the medical mission and how associations can keep their events timely and relevant for members. A few weeks after the APA's announcement, the AMA issued a similar policy statement at its annual meeting.
The strategy for delivering the announcement was as powerful as the content. In addition to the public address, the speech was featured through APA TV News, which aired throughout the convention center and at area hotels. The entire speech was also reprinted in the Daily Bulletin, the APA's daily publication at the congress.
To get the message out to the broader public, the APA issued a press release through a news wire service and directly distributed it to medical and science writers for print, broadcast, and Web-based outlets, and also posted it on its own Web site. Reaction was impressive. Major media outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Toronto Sun, British Medical Journal, Medpage Today, and Psychiatric News, were just a few to cover the story.
Such a successful media campaign involved collaboration among different departments. “The APA understands that the communications office can help amplify the organization's mission and work, as we did with the interrogation issue,” says Lydia Sermons-Ward, director of the office of communications and public affairs, APA, Arlington, Va. “Our communications office worked with the members of our board of trustees and assembly, governance staff, information systems department, and many other parties to get our message out in a timely matter and through as many channels as possible.”
Marketing strategies, used effectively, can have a real and powerful impact on moving your group's educational agenda forward.
Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group International, LLC, a medical communications company in Arlington, Mass. You can reach her at email@example.com.