Columbus Days: The AACA Conference

The expression on my face was calm, but I had a white-knuckled grip on the handle of the minivan’s rear sliding door. “Are you going to the same place as all the women?” asked the taxi driver in broken English. He punched the accelerator and the remnants of his fast food lunch rolled to the back seat and nestled next to my feet.

“Uh, I guess so. If they are headed to the Hyatt as well.” I cringed at the honking horn in my right ear and flashing brake lights. He swerved to narrowly avoid another cab and waved in a not-so-friendly fashion as we passed by.

“I’m taking a lot of women downtown. You must be with them,” he said with the same nonchalant tone as before. He had expertly positioned the taxi to take up both lanes of traffic, slightly weaving back and forth to avoid any more competition. I checked my seatbelt for a third time.

“I’m going to the Clinical Anatomy conference.” I paused to see if he recognized the name. “The AACA conference? Clinical Anatomy?”

He shrugged and turned up the dispatching radio, filling the cab with indiscernible chatter. With screeching tires and a neck-straining stop, we arrived at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I gave him a tip that I provided me the privilege to retrieve my own bags from the back and fill out my own receipt. I closed the door and he sped away, only to stop a hundred feet away and step out of his taxi to smoke a cigarette. Now that the fear of a fiery car crash was gone, I sighed a breath of relief  and dragged my luggage into the hotel lobby to check in for the 28th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.

“A lot of women” was an understatement. Upon entering the conference center, I was met with 9,000 pastel-clad housewives with personalized handbags, giddy with excitement for their annual conference of the next-best pyramid scheme. Several hundred more women chased hyperactive toddlers donning sashes and tiaras for the latest little miss pageant. I wandered about the massive building and discovered a large hallway where few brightly colored shirts dared to go. A place filled with skeletons and exploded skulls on the tables, videos of cadaveric dissections, and 3D projections of a bisected human head. The occasional, yet distinctive whine of a vendor’s Stryker saw moved my eyes past the stainless steel autopsy tables to the large display of shiny dissection instruments. I found my place here. I found the AACA conference.

The conference started off with a casual meeting of mentors. I met with Dr. Benninger and claimed a table for the OHSU students soon to arrive. A few minutes later, a short, bearded man with a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts approached me. I introduced myself and he held up his nametag.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked with a pronounced English accent. His nametag read ‘Peter Abrahams’, a name that was only slightly familiar to me.

“Uhhhh. Unfortunately, I don’t.” Good one, Josh.

“I’m a Professor of Clinical Anatomy in England.” As he sat down next to me, he gestured across the room. “You may have seen a few of the textbooks I’ve written.”

It all came flooding back. I scoured mounds of textbooks and atlases during school and for my current research project, using last names only to fill my reference page. I have read through his books and seen his name numerous times, but as crazy as it sounds, I’ve always treated textbook authors as omniscient superheroes, never to reveal their true identities to the public. Few may believe they even exist. So meeting Professor Abrahams was a bit like meeting Clark Kent wearing a ‘Superman’ nametag. Even better, he was grounded and approachable, with a personality as colorful as his clothing. We talked for quite some time about my project and the conference as if we were catching up from last year’s meeting.

I had the pleasure of meeting many more superheroes in plain clothing over the next few days. Drs. Keith Moore, Arthur Dalley, and Anne Agur (authors of the medical school standard textbook Clinically Oriented Anatomy) were fantastic, not only offering incredibly helpful comments with everyone’s research, but also offering sincere greetings and conversations with everyone they met. Dr. Vid Persaud (Before We Are Born), world famous embryologist and educator, had a quiet demeanor, but enjoyed adding the occasional quip to the conversation with his colleagues. Dr. Bob Acland (Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy) offered several tips on editing and photographing my cadaveric specimens. Meeting all of these wonderful people highlighted the entire trip and I will always remember the person behind each of the amazing works of education.

The rest of the conference was filled with poster and platform presentations from many different approaches of clinical anatomy, as well as very informative symposiums on education and research. Under Dr. Benninger’s mentorship, the OHSU team showed a very strong presence at the conference, with three platform presentations and eighteen posters. Dental student Matt Young received an award for his poster presentation about the clinical relevance of ultrasound to identify the long buccal nerve.

The four day conference was rich with information and experiences, far too many to be shared in a blog post. I can only urge all of you who are considering research to take the plunge and spend some of your final summer break to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. I have had a very rewarding summer and I still have plenty of time to enjoy my family, friends, and wonderful Oregon summer weather.

One response to “Columbus Days: The AACA Conference

  1. Wow! Talk about a lot of geniuses in close quarters. Sounds like an awesome experience Josh, well done.

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