virtual in lab brain
In addition to engaging in a wide range of diagnostic presentations, participants of the Online Surgical Pathology Conference were virtually taken into UHN's lab space (as seen here in a screen grab from the event) for neurology and cardiovascular specimen workshops led by pathologist, Dr. Michael Seidman. (Image: UHN Surgical Pathology)

Overcoming challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic is not new for healthcare workers.

In addition to meeting the needs of patients and communities during these challenging times, a team in UHN's Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) recently held its first completely online continuing education (CE) conference, supporting education for the broader medical community and raising nearly $15,000 for charities confronting COVID-19.

"The key intent behind the conference was to make it as accessible as possible," says Ian Sue-Chue-Lam, pathologists' assistant, LMP, and lead organizer of the Online Surgical Pathology CE Conference.

"By making it 'donate what you can' with all proceeds going to charity, we felt like we could bring together as many people as possible to get behind the message and collaborate."

More than 350 participants from across 16 countries attended the online conference for presentations on cancer diagnostics, and virtual in-lab sessions on surgical pathology – where viewers learned how to handle and study surgically resected tissue samples and organs to diagnose disease.

Presenters, many of whom were scheduled for in-person conferences no longer able to take place due to the pandemic, readily joined the initiative, sharing their expertise remotely from five different states and provinces across North America.

"The thing that impresses me the most, along with increased accessibility," says Martin Grealish, senior pathologists' assistant, LMP, and co-organizer of the conference, "is the overall inclusiveness of the initiative.

"We pulled together multiple professional organizations, industry sponsors, and speakers from various institutions to spread continuing education out to a much wider audience, including peripheral professionals, who otherwise wouldn't have access to this."

Second day of presentations set for July 25

Registrants, in the post-event survey, which showed a 98 per cent satisfaction rate, shared this sentiment with many comments commending the accessibility and overall use of technology. One person wrote that it was a long overdue, given the modern era.

"The pandemic has really put a lot of pressure on people to figure out ways to come together online," Ian says. "These methods have always been available, but we have never collaborated internationally to create an event like this until now.

"I think we're seeing technology play a bigger role in the way that people engage with one another and interact with their communities."

The conference, which was held live on June 6, took just over two months to plan. Due to high demand, organizers will hold a second day of presentations on July 25.

"This was a grassroots effort that Ian did a fantastic job of leading," says Martin."It also really speaks to the opportunities that are out there if we can start leveraging more IT tools and increasing access to educational resources.

"The potential for growing this is huge, for all of our professions at UHN. All it can do is grow from here."

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