HFSA 2021: The Physician Assistants Experience, With Viet Le, PA-C

Viet Le, PA-C, details his experience at the Heart Failure Society of America annual meeting from the perspective of a physician assistant.

As a cardiovascular researcher with interests across most areas of cardiology therapeutics and diagnostics, I found HFSA 2021 a treasure trove of heart failure (HF)-related topics. As a PA in a general cardiology/lipidology-oriented practice with mostly outpatient and only very occasional opportunities for inpatient management, HFSA was almost overwhelming because of that depth and breadth of heart failure learning offerings.

In full transparency, HFSA is not generally a conference on the radar of this general cardiology/lipidology PA. I usually rely on my excellent Intermountain Heart Institute Heart Failure/Transplant colleagues to update me after they attend this conference. Through my recent engagements as the current President of the Association of PAs in Cardiology (APAC) to improve PA involvement and advocacy in HFSA, I was invited to co-moderate a Saturday session, “Deep Learning for HF Medicine: A Practical Primer” alongside Maria Rosa Costanzo, MD, and ultimately presented a talk as well in the same session. Nearer to the conference date, I was asked to also join in as a PA discussant on the final Monday session of the conference titled “Clinical Conundrums – Multidisciplinary Case Discussion”.

I thoroughly enjoy attending scientific conferences and find that the researcher in me gravitates strongly towards developing my attendance itinerary around Late-Breaking Clinical Trial content. Personally, my engagement/attention level increases as an invited faculty member and/or as a presenter of submitted research (e.g. oral or poster abstract).

In all honesty, I identify as an introvert in most settings and often experience anxiety in unfamiliar settings, such as being a first-time conference goer at a conference in an area of cardiology that is not a focus of my clinical or research practice. To combat this, I often make connections in a “safe space” via social media or reach out to those colleagues I know who are attending (e.g., Kevin Shah, MD, and Sarah Schroeder, ACNP) and meet when possible. Part of the driving factor for me to advocate for PAs within HFSA as President of APAC is to develop infrastructure for PAs to welcome one another, collaborate, and network within HFSA and especially face-to-face at conferences (masked and vaccinated of course!). Wearing my President of APAC hat did lend me the courage to walk up to one of two PAs that I encountered at HFSA. The other PA was introduced to me via my friend and HF colleague, Sarah Schroeder, ACNP. I hope to continue to build on this collaboration between APAC and HFSA and outreach to PAs in HF.

With all the above as background to provide context of my first HFSA experience, I arrived with a strength of purpose knowing that I needed to be prepared to co-moderate, provide a specific talk on Deep Learning, and be ready to provide PA specific input to a multidisciplinary discussion on clinical cases. I then planned my itinerary to try and include Late-Breaking Clinical Trials. Finally, as an attendee without the framework of seeing patients that are majority HF-related, I split the rest of my day in visiting and engaging with poster presenters and attending sponsored evening presentations.

The Heart Failure Society of American (HFSA) 2021 Scientific Sessions was planned as a hybrid conference, blending the traditional in-person meeting with a virtual attendance option. I appreciated the lengths to which the HFSA conference planners took to help mitigate covid infections as in-person attendees were asked to demonstrate full vaccination status and to remain masked while attending indoor events.

While hybrid sessions can and sometimes did feel “clunky” both as moderator and attendee, I congratulate the HFSA committee for being intentional about this still “fairly” new conference modality. In my view, being intentional about recording live in-person sessions that have synchronous virtual attendees provides one watching these sessions later with a “real experience”. Many attendees, including myself may not always (or ever) feel comfortable standing at a microphone in a crowd to ask a question. Providing that capability via Slido software did allow me to ask my question “virtually” while sitting in-person. Thus, reducing my crowd-anxiety yet allowed me to ask a question I felt was important.

My final words of advice for the first-time attendee. It is okay to have conference anxiety. Plan ahead by reviewing the conference planner and identify subjects that you are passionate about, consider stopping in at poster presentations to see new and evolving science, one can never go wrong with late-breakers, consider submitting science or proposals to speak on a topic, and lastly, connect with others ahead of conference and plan to meet up or go to sessions with your colleagues.