Reflections on the CHEST Annual Meeting From an Early Investigator Written by Keira A. Cohen, MD

April 3, 2018 by CHEST Guest Writer

I am extremely grateful to the CHEST Foundation for the honor and privilege of receiving the CHEST Foundation Research Grant in Nontuberculous Mycobacteria Diseases in addition to a CHEST Foundation Travel Grant to be able to attend the CHEST Annual Meeting 2017 in Toronto, Canada.

Firstly, it was such a special honor to receive recognition from the CHEST Foundation for my proposed research project to develop blood-based diagnostics for nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). As an early career investigator, this award provides great encouragement and motivation to keep advancing science and aiming for excellence.  Following the conference, I looked forward to returning to both the lab and the clinic to continue these research endeavors, which I hope will help physicians provide better care for patients with pulmonary NTM.Keira Cohen quote 1

This was my first time attending the CHEST Annual Meeting, and I was very impressed with the breadth of the programming and the depth of the discussions. As my research focuses on mycobacteria, I enjoyed the presentation of difficult cases of NTM, in which it was apparent that the panelists had different opinions and management styles regarding how to approach these challenging cases. I enjoyed the opportunity to attend sessions related to my research as well as updates outside of my direct research area but related to my clinical work or other interests.

Despite a wide range of events and large number of attendees, I was pleased to learn that the meeting had an intimate feel. Many of the sessions that I attended had a relaxed ambiance that invited commentary and debate, which made for a more lively experience. In particular, the pro-con debate style of some sessions was quite enjoyable. I found the debate on whether it is better for pulmonologists or cardiologists to manage patients in a coronary care unit entertaining.

One event at CHEST 2017 that I will never forget is the keynote address given by John O’Leary as he recounted his childhood trauma of sustaining life-threatening burns to his body and subsequent critical care that put him on the path toward recovery.  In my own practice when I take care of patients in the medical intensive care unit, I so rarely get to learn how their lives and stories unfold after they are transitioned out of the ICU.

Keira Cohen quote 2The way that he recounted his life story was touching, inspiring, and heartfelt. His gratitude for the care he received from all members of the health-care team, including the custodial staff, was truly astonishing. At the end of his keynote, when he played “The Scientist” by Coldplay on the piano, there was not a dry eye in the auditorium. It was the perfect way, both in deed and in message, to celebrate overcoming obstacles and cherishing life.

Beyond the programmed content, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to network and meet other CHEST attendees in informal sessions. It was an honor to attend the CHEST Foundation Breakfast of Champions where I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Mike Nelson. I was charmed by Dr. Nelson’s down-to-earth and approachable nature. I greatly appreciate his candor regarding the excitement but also the challenges that an early career scientist faces. He provided thoughtful and personalized career advice in how to succeed as a young investigator and also in how to build a successful clinical pulmonology practice.

I look forward to attending the CHEST Annual Meeting on a more regular basis; and in retrospect, I am disappointed that I missed out on attending CHEST annual meetings in previous years. Given the numerous opportunities for both clinical and professional development provided at the meeting, I would advise current pulmonary and critical care fellows to rearrange their schedules to attend the CHEST Annual Meeting during their fellowship. See you at CHEST 2018 in San Antonio, Texas!

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