video gathering

Gathering and finding community with others has become more challenging during COVID-19. However, while we can’t gather physically in person, many have been able to find community in virtual spaces – from virtual book clubs and exercise classes to conferences, networking sessions, and other online meetings. The need for community has not gone away even as meetings have shifted to video.

The same is true for the health services research field. Despite limits on physically gathering, AcademyHealth still saw a strong turnout at our virtual Annual Research Meeting (ARM), which took place over two weeks this summer. Attendees benefited from connecting with their peers, sharing diverse perspectives, and addressing the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism—which further highlighted the need for timely, evidence-based policies to improve health and health care for all. ARM fulfills this need for the HSR community each year, and even though the event had to be virtual, we were still together and able to connect—on Twitter, in our networking lounge, and in the chats of our plenary sessions.

Back in October, we asked AcademyHealth event attendees to fill out a short poll on why they attend our events and why we gather as a field of HSR professionals.

Poll results confirmed:  conference attendees value working with and learning from peers to better the field and their own research.

Collaboration on Research

When askedWhat is the primary reason you participate in AcademyHealth’s conferences and events?” the answer that received the highest response (48.45 percent) was “to develop research/business partners to move my work forward.”

Many respondents noted the necessity of collaborating and promoting their own research. One respondent said they wanted to meet other HSR professionals in order “to share experiences and learn from what others are doing/have done in their respective environments and develop relationships with new researchers.” Another respondent said: “finding early stage investigators to champion.”

It’s not all about business relationships either, some responses spoke of cherished friendships and the opportunity to discover new kindred spirits from across the country, which underscores a primary reason the HSR community attributes to attending events:  networking.

Advancing the Field

This may be unsurprising, but it’s worth noting that 36 percent of respondents stated that the primary reason they participate in AcademyHealth’s conferences and events was to “learn about the latest in HSR.” AcademyHealth conferences showcase the latest issues facing the field with a blend of invited plenaries and call for abstract panels.  The first ARM was held in 1983 and had just over 200 attendees. The last time we met in person, we numbered more than 3,000—a testament to the growth of our community.

And it doesn’t seem like that growth is slowing down. We’re pleased to have a vibrant group of student members, many of whom have taken an active role in our 38 student chapters and 19 Interest Groups. Meeting attendees are also encouraged by the presence of our early career members. One respondent said: “Meeting young people has given me optimism about the future of the field.”

Another noted how AcademyHealth events improved their “overall understanding of health policy issues and practice implication” and helped generate publication ideas.


One of the most meaningful aspects of attending an HSR event or conference—regardless of whether it has been hosted by AcademyHealth—is the opportunity to meet possible mentors and foster career advancement opportunities.

As one respondent noted: “Most of my important professional mentors and colleagues came from AH meetings, starting when I was finishing my dissertation.” Another mentioned opportunities to talk with “nationally-recognized HSR luminaries.”

Mentoring and the connections made at gatherings have a lasting impact. One attendee noted how she continues to work with others: “I have been able to encourage others to learn more about their health care through individual researching of articles and best evidence web sites, I continue to share what I have learned with others via some and email and calls.”

Mentorship, collaboration, and sharing innovations in the field offer opportunities for lasting connection after the event or conference is over. Even though conferences and gatherings will continue to be virtual for the foreseeable future, HSR professionals will still be able to come together and find new ways to collaborate with one another.

If you’d like to meet other likeminded individuals interested in health care, data, policy innovation, and more, join us for our 13th Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health this December and the 2021 Health Datapalooza and National Health Policy Conference happening virtually February 16-18, 2021.


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