AACAP Annual Meeting Memories
Aka Jacqueline Etemad, M.D.
I am still basking in the afterglow of attending AACAP's 2012 annual meeting in San Francisco--gathering new ideas and seeing old friends--as always a very special time. It occurred to me recently to reflect on my experience with Annual Meetings over many years. With the support and when possible the participation of my husband and family I have attended at least thirty-five Annual Meetings. I have seen the sights and jogged the streets and parks of cities around the U.S. as well as in Canada. I have partied in cowboy boots, Halloween costumes, and with orchid leis around my neck. I have many, many friends that I only see during the latter part of October. Looking back, the meetings themselves do tend to merge in my memory. But certain things stand out, and recalling them I can trace something of the development of our organization, our field, and of my own professional career.
I can certainly recall the very first meeting I attended. The year was 1970 or perhaps it was 1971, and the meeting was in New Orleans. I had recently completed my child fellowship at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute in San Francisco and was continuing work with our director, Stanislaus Szurek, assisting him with his ongoing research on autistic children. I traveled to New Orleans to present a paper on how capacity for language development affected prognosis for autistic children. What I remember from that meeting was the thrill of visiting New Orleans for the first time coupled with the excitement of being among colleagues, especially those luminaries that I never expected to see in person, much less meet and converse with. I believe there were a few hundred child psychiatrists attending the meeting. I recall that the program was a 3" by 7" stapled booklet of about 20 pages. The meeting was divided up into half a dozen three hour "paper sessions" scheduled each morning and afternoon. Generally three papers were presented at each session. There was a discussant to tie things together and a chair to keep the time. There were no symposia, workshops, forums, institutes, study groups, media theatre, poster sessions, clinical case conferences, task forces, or work groups. Those were simpler times.
I can't forget the 1974 meeting. It was held in San Francisco, and my mentor at Langley Porter, Bob Herrick, had agreed to chair the Local Arrangements Committee. However Bob left San Francisco in mid-1973 to open a new department of child psychiatry in Springfield, Illinois. His farewell gift to me was his job as local arrangements chair. Of course arrangements were less complex in those days, but it was still a daunting task. Bill Stone was the Bennett Leventhal of that era. He pretty much told me what to do, and I did it. The culminating event of the meeting was a formal banquet. I was thrilled to be up on stage dressed in an evening gown with all the notables of AACP (we had one less A in those days). I haven't seen an evening gown at a meeting in quite some time.
Then there was 1979-our 25th anniversary. We were in San Diego and it was warm and lovely. This is the first meeting where I remember dress being less formal as we trailed sand from the beach into our meetings. But there was still a banquet. I wrote and sang a song for the occasion about the ups and downs of being a child psychiatrist.
In the years that followed I settled into a rhythm of attending Annual Meetings. I remember well the eerie feeling of waking up in a hotel room that looked like all the other hotel rooms I had stayed in and wondering what city I was in.
In time I became a representative from our Regional Organization to the Assembly, which convened for the entire day on Tuesday. Since with occasional exceptions Annual Meetings took place in some large east coast city, we westerners were slammed with jet lag. Having arrived late Monday night, I would crawl reluctantly out of bed at 4am my time and arrive at the Assembly Meeting more than half asleep. It required prodigious effort to concentrate on discussions of recruitment, managed care, content of training programs, the relationship between local groups and the national organization, relationships with pharma and non psychiatric professionals, and on and on. The same topics came up again and again. In fact the same people seemed to raise the same questions year after year. But over time we moved forward to new and different understandings, gradually expanding and clarifying our notions of what was important in our field.
One particularly thorny subject was concern about the group of "adolescent psychiatrists" who did not have child psychiatry training. The American Society of Adolescent Psychiatry was on the rise, and there was much concern about threats to our identity. I didn't speak up often, but at one meeting I raised my hand and said, "Why don't we just change our name and call ourselves child and adolescent psychiatrists." I don't recall the discussion picking up on my suggestion, but somewhere down the line it seems to have caught on. (Or like many good ideas was invented more than once).
The meeting returned to San Francisco in 1983, and I was asked to serve as Local Arrangements Chair again. Somehow I failed to recall saying, "Never again" in 1974, and I answered the call. This was a bigger, busier meeting than the one nine years earlier. John Sikorski, Aubrey Metcalf, and Natalie O'Byrne were my staunch helpers as we set up our hospitality desk, arranged for monitors, provided a restaurant guide, and facilitated communication among members in that pre-cell phone era. But there were no fortune cookies.
In the late 1980's a pivotal event in my life led to an intensification of my academy activities. My brother became an early victim of the AIDS epidemic, and it fell to me to care for him through the uncharted territory of this terrifying new plague. I learned a great deal from this process and became convinced that I needed to share my knowledge with others. One of the wonderful things about AACAP is that it provides an opportunity for members to bring up their own concerns and through the component structure to find ways to develop and transmit their ideas to others in the field. For the next several years my meetings were filled with activity. Serving on the AIDS Task Force that was established by Irving Philips, and later as chair of its successor, The HIV Issues Committee enabled me to participate in spreading the word about HIV risks and prevention through symposia, exhibits, articles, policy statements, and Facts for Families.
The HIV work led me to consider a broader issue. I became enthralled with the notion that the traditional description of our professional identities as teachers, researchers, and clinicians was leaving a lot out. I felt that we should notice, enhance, and celebrate a fourth aspect of our identity-advocacy. For many advocacy was and remains the process of influencing government policy. However I saw advocacy in a wider sense relating it to all the ways we stand up for kids, especially those who are underserved. Ultimately I chaired a Task Force that identified some of the many ways our members were acting as advocates for underserved children. We called the report of the two year project "Catchers in the Rye" taking that name from John Schowalter's presidential address. An outgrowth of the task force was the establishment of an award by that name to recognize advocacy efforts. In 1996 I was highly pleased to be the first individual to receive The Catcher in the Rye Award.
So by then we were getting close to the end of the century, and about then I was wondering what would come next, when Clarice Kestenbaum asked me to chair the Bylaws Committee. The Bylaws Committee? How was I supposed to pour my energies into a committee that seemed to do very little and at that point was not even holding meetings? Clarice counseled me to give it a try and see what happened. What happened was that once we got going the committee shepherded the by-laws through three major revisions. I came to understand the by-laws as a living document that reflects AACAP's exponential development, not just in size but in the diversity of its activities. We also began to anticipate the time when our forever Executive Director, Ginger Anthony, might actually retire. The Bylaws Committee pressed for AACAP to bring together the various write-ups of policy and procedure that were scattered throughout the organization in order to prepare for the time when the answer to any query could no longer be, "Ask Ginger". And so we now have another living document, the AACAP Manual that is maintained in the staff office. I am just retiring from the Bylaws Committee and all in all it has been a very satisfying14 years.
And four years ago along came a new AACAP activity, the Life Member initiative that occupied me at the recent San Francisco meeting. There are now more than 1,000 Life Members in the Academy, more than the number of members in the entire organization when I attended my first Annual Meeting more than 40 years ago. Like the aging grandparents that most of us are we have chosen to strengthen our ties with the younger generation. Our Life Members Fund is bringing young trainees and medical students to the Annual Meeting giving us opportunities to share some of our experience with them. And through our e-Newsletter, annual dinner, and symposium we are enhancing our connections with one another. At the recent San Francisco meeting we reached out to Life Members to encourage their participation in this process. I am glad to be a part of the Life Member initiative in this latest phase of my romance with AACAP.