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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dreams sometimes come true

In our lives we all have myriad aspirations, but sadly most times things do not work out. Thankfully, our highly elaborate ego defense mechanisms, including plain denial, exist to protect us from seeing things as they really are. Very few people are accepted to their dream schools, marry their dream partners, get their dream jobs, live in their dream homes, or live their dream lives. Maturity consists of accepting both our intrinsic limitations and those of our circumstances. Isn’t it a shock when as we grow up we realize that our parents are also (very!) limited and that we are essentially on our own? Yet, in spite of checks imposed by reality, we keep dreaming.

When Alan Schatzberg invited me to be Chair of the Scientific Program Committee of the APA over one year ago, I accepted that challenge with joy. And almost immediately I started dreaming. I dreamed of a national and international meeting that would be a true one-stop shop for the field of psychiatry. Over the last couple of decades our field evolved in such a way that different groups focused increasingly more on their own networks, organizations, and meetings. Our colleagues started to prioritize more and more their focused meetings, such as those of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and Society of Biological Psychiatry, among others. The feeling was that the APA Annual Meeting was too busy, too chaotic, and not the place to present the most cutting edge content. As the meeting was based on submissions, we were at the mercy of what came to us.

My dream as I was given the unique opportunity to lead the Scientific Program Committee was to revamp the annual meeting as a one-stop shop to completely fulfill the needs of a variety of constituencies: those who wanted to see the latest discoveries and advances, those who wanted to meet the leaders in our field, those who wanted the best evidence-based clinical data to inform their practice, and those who sought to learn specific topics in CME courses. It is time-consuming and expensive to travel. Why do our members need to do things piecemeal, attending several meetings, when their could all be accomplished at the APA?

The strategy over the course of the past year then became to invite top speakers to the Annual Meeting. We made a strategic plan to invite approximately 50% of the content. Then, in September 2009 I moved halfway around the world, to Australia, to become Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, which is Australia’s national medical research institute. Should I then give up the dream? Of course not! That is why the internet and old fashioned phones exist. We also added Don Hilty as a co-chair of the Scientific Program Committee to make this long distance endeavor possible. But would this really work?

As background, I am very fortunate that another old dream of mine had come true. Those who specialize in addiction know that there is nothing like intermittent reinforcement to really hook someone. My old dream that started in the 90’s was to create a new journal that was conceptually novel, and that would integrate basic and clinical science and would rapidly rise to the top. Molecular Psychiatry, that I founded in 1996 and continue to edit to this day, achieved its editorial goals and it is now the second most cited psychiatric journal worldwide (Impact Factor of 12.5). I make all reviewer assignments and all editorial decisions for all our papers. In 2010 the number of submission is expected to reach 1,000. Due to this demanding “hobby” I am very aware of the latest breakthroughs in psychiatry and in these last 15 years I developed excellent working relationships with the leaders in the field. So, from Australia, I tapped my network of contacts worldwide and was able to invite vast numbers of national and international experts to the meeting. It worked! As the science of psychiatry rapidly advances and starts to impact on practice my bet was that our members would be attracted to the cutting edge. Our standing room only sessions proved that my instinct was right.

As our Annual Meeting rapidly reaches its end, I see my dream come true. This meeting has been a very successful one-stop shop for any psychiatrist of any orientation. All the key areas were covered – by top experts. Sessions of direct clinical relevance were as successful as those that presented the latest developments on scientific basis of psychiatry. Courses were a big hit (thanks, Michele Pato). The incredible staff of the APA and the very keen and dedicated members of our Scientific Program Committee deserve to be congratulated for their tireless efforts. Don Hilty was a superb co-chair. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to put together such a fantastic meeting. Contradicting John Lennon, who famously stated in his song “God” that “the dream is over,” I am delighted that my dream is still alive as the 2010 Annual Meeting is ongoing. Importantly, I am hopeful that the dream will continue to live on through future APA meetings.

Julio Licinio, M.D.
Scientific Program Committee
American Psychiatric Association
John Curtin School of Medical Research
The Australian National University
Canberra, Australia

Molecular Psychiatry
Nature Publishing Group
London and New York City

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