EndoFest calls itself “the Ultimate Endoscopy Event” — and that’s no empty bravado. The annual two-day educational conference produced by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) is no stereotypical medical meeting, where experts lecture from the podium to an audience of note-takers, with Q&A at the end.
Billed as endoscopy education that is “comprehensive, intensive, interactive,” EndoFest is distinguished by its mix of small, highly interactive formats, including skill-building workshops, customized ask-the-expert panels on new techniques, and “experts in the hot seat” sessions, where audience members join in debating difficult case solutions. All of this is delivered in a “no-suits” atmosphere, where the world-class faculty walk around in EndoFest polo shirts instead.
Now in its fifth year, EndoFest is the brainchild of Christopher J. “C.J.” Gostout, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and one of the founding directors of the conference. The white-bearded, white-ponytailed physician can be seen in a YouTube video wearing a Hawaiian shirt and inviting endoscopists around the world to EndoFest 2015, which he calls “a festival of endoscopy, probably the absolute best experience in your professional career.”
A leading expert in the field of endoscopy, Gostout is also known for his passion for cutting-edge training and his inviting esprit de corps. Another video on YouTube shows Gostout crowning the “King and Queen of EndoFest,” an annual “coronation” that puts a unique spin on final-night recognition ceremonies.
“There really isn’t anything out there that I know of like EndoFest,” said Vanessa Kizart, ASGE’s director of meeting services. “It’s world-class education, hands-on, intense, small, very collegial.” She noted that while ASGE is a co-sponsor of Digestive Disease Week, which draws 15,000 attendees, it doesn’t have its own annual conference per se. “EndoFest is ASGE’s signature event,” Kizart said, “a perfect tie-in with our tagline ‘all things endoscopy.’”
CHALLENGES AND CHANGES
Held Sept. 25–27 at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, EndoFest 2015 drew nearly 250 attendees, which is pretty much the cap that the program’s tight faculty-to-attendee balance necessitates. EndoFest requires three ballrooms to accommodate workshops and sessions, as well as its exhibit program. It’s a ratio of meeting to sleeping rooms that would be problematic for any event, particularly when the ballrooms need to be on the same level. (See Breakout, p. 38.)
“Frankly, we’re not sure yet where we will take EndoFest in 2016,” Kizart said. “We’re still exploring our options.” Previously EndoFest was held in Aventura, Florida; San Diego; Washington, D.C.; and Las Vegas. “The concept from the start was to be a small, highly interactive conference, but that comes with some site-selection challenges.”
Along with intimacy and interactivity, a key branding component is that the meeting provides a one-stop shop for endoscopy, a specialty niche of gastroenterology. To that end, Endo-
Fest offers instruction on everything from colon-cancer screening, sedation, and feeding tubes to suturing and colonoscopies — including the latest technologies and treatments. Physicians, surgeons, trainees, and other health-care providers involved with endoscopy are also invited to the meeting. Registration is tiered by type of professional, and attendees can pay one fee for everything or choose à la carte pricing.
The ethos of the meeting is to constantly push the frontiers of learning in large and small ways. At EndoFest 2015, ASGE’s Learning Lab offered iPads that individual attendees could use for CME programing rather than the DVD players and monitors that had been used in the past, usually by more than one person at a time. This year also saw the addition of several optional half-day programs, including ones for second- and third-year fellows — filling a gap in educational opportunities for endoscopy professionals that ASGE had previously identified, Kizart said.
GROWING AND GROWING
March 2016 will mark Kizart’s 14th year with ASGE. She was one of four people hired in 2002 when the organization brought operations in-house after being run for years by an association-management company. “We didn’t even have an education department when I was hired,” she said with a bemused laugh. “We were working out of the basement of our CEO’s home. It’s just incredible how far we have come in such a short time.”
ASGE now has a staff of 58 and a worldwide membership of 14,000. In 2013, the association moved into its custom-built headquarters in Chicago’s Downers Grove suburb. The building is also home to ASGE’s new, state-of-the-art Interactive Training & Technology Center. With a 16-station Bioskills Lab and a 3,000-square-foot conference center, the facility is used for ASGE training programs and is also rented to external clients looking for a top-of-the-line medical-training environment.
Kizart now finds herself doing meeting planning as well as conference services, a mix she never pictured for herself but has embraced enthusiastically. “We’re always looking to try something new,” she said, “with [ASGE leadership] saying, ‘Let’s add this or let’s try that,’ and that’s part of the fun and the challenge of the job. People here are very passionate and dedicated, yet also laid back and very respectful of staff. It’s all part of the culture at ASGE. There’s always a lot of exciting change.”