From the ‘golden age of dermatology’ to the present: how the Annual Meeting has evolved over the years

Irwin M. Braverman, MD, has been attending the Academy's Annual Meeting since 1960. He describes how the meeting has evolved over a half century.

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The AAD hosted its first Annual Meeting in 1938. As we prepare to head to Orlando for the 2017 Academy Annual Meeting, Irwin M. Braverman, MD, reminisces of how the meeting has evolved over the years. 

By Irwin M. Braverman, MD
Emeritus Professor of Dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine

I attended my first Annual Meeting of the AAD in 1960 and have attended every meeting since then, save for one. My entry into dermatology training and my first attendance at the meeting as a second-year dermatology resident coincided with the birth of the golden age of dermatology: the federal government was expanding medical schools and faculty in all specialties and the NIH was providing funds for the development of both academic and investigative dermatology. As dermatology residents, we were in the right place at the right time.

For this first decade, the Annual Meeting was held on the first weekend in December at the iconic Palmer House in Chicago, a central location for clinicians and training programs around the country. The emphasis in the 1960s was on medical dermatology, mycology, and a basic understanding, as much as was then known, of the structure and function of the skin through histochemistry and the evolving disciplines of electron microscopy and dermatopathology. Instruction was provided in two-day courses on Friday and Saturday and in individual lectures and symposia on other days.

With the maturation of immunology, this discipline was quickly introduced into the courses. These formal teaching sessions also served as part of the basic curriculum in training programs throughout the country, as well as continuing education for meeting attendees. The lecturers were generally the master teachers in the field: Chairmen and outstanding clinicians affiliated with academic programs. It was not unusual for chairs to introduce their residents to other chairs. An educational network was formed, and many of these individuals would later become chairs, collaborators, and renowned educators.

My entry into dermatology training and my first attendance at the meeting as a second-year dermatology resident coincided with the birth of the golden age of dermatology: the federal government was expanding medical schools and faculty in all specialties and the NIH was providing funds for the development of both academic and investigative dermatology.

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Technical exhibits were present from the beginning -- but not as garish or as extensive as currently. The book publishers had a major presence, as did device and instrument makers. In that era, pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies had many samples to dispense with elaborate bags to convey them home. There were a small number of scientific exhibits consisting of photographic prints or sheets of text pinned to 4’ x 6’ corkboard easels provided by the hotel. Virtually all of the exhibits were original works presented by residents and fellows of the Academy, not by pharmaceutical firms. The were about 3,000 - 3,500 individuals, including vendors, present during my first decade of attendance.

Attendance grows with success of specialty

During the next decade attendance at annual meetings increased dramatically as the number of trainees and practicing dermatologists and participants from abroad and industry increased. The Palmer House could no longer serve our needs, so we moved to the nearby and recently built McCormick Convention Center. After the convention center was badly damaged by fire a few years later, Annual Meeting shifted to a different month at members’ request and to the current rotational system of San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami, Orlando, and Washington, because meeting with its 8,000-10,000 attendees had outgrown the lodging and educational facilities of Chicago.

The increase in attendance was inevitable considering the success of the specialty in delivering medical and surgical dermatologic care as well as in developing a robust investigative arm. The increase in numbers, however, made the meeting less of a family affair. Whereas one knew many colleagues by name or recognized by sight when we were only a few thousand, the increased attendance made such recognition much more difficult.

Annual Meeting provided us with tips/pearls for hard to treat skin disorders, wise comments on how to develop optimal relationship with patients, information about insurance and federal government regulations, and every few years we would hear about a major breakthrough therapy –- always a highlight of the meeting. I remember when griseofulvin was introduced, PUVA therapy for psoriasis, potent topical steroids, tretinoin, and most recently, biologics.

Evolution of educational program

The most significant gift from Annual Meeting for those who went into dermatology during the 1960s was the first-hand clinical knowledge delivered by the master clinicians, many of whom were trained in internal medicine, microbiology, and mycology, in addition to dermatology. It was this broad education that allowed them to make their contributions to the specialty and, in turn, serve as role models and effective educators. It was not just the nuances of clinical dermatology that they imparted, but more importantly they conveyed how a genuine physician-patient relationship was vital to the successful treatment and care of the patient with chronic dermatologic disease.

As the scope of dermatologic care and interests have developed and evolved, so has the meeting’s educational program. As our knowledge about the pathogenesis and treatment of skin disease increases, seemingly almost exponentially, we must not minimize teaching the clinical aspects of these disorders lest we risk sliding down the slippery slope where diagnoses are made by the laboratory and not by our senses.