The American Society of Hematology (ASH) is a global organization. I always knew this but never fully appreciated ASH’s global impact until my recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, as a faculty member for the 2023 Highlights of ASH International for the Asia-Pacific region. International travel, or for that matter almost any travel, has never been a priority for me. The less time away from family, friends, work, and my assiduous weekly routine, the better. Nevertheless, I realized as an ASH officer, and especially as ASH President, I would have to do a lot of national and international travel.
Getting to Hanoi, the first international trip of the year for me, proved to be a bit daunting. My travels began at 5:20 a.m. with a 75-minute car ride from my home in Baltimore to Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, D.C. From there, I flew to Boston. The flight was 45 minutes late, so I rushed to the gate and boarded a plane to Tokyo, Japan, with only 10 minutes to spare.
From Tokyo, I flew to Hanoi and made it to the hotel 32 hours after leaving Baltimore. It always seemed silly to me to travel halfway across the country, let alone halfway around the world, to deliver a lecture on mostly published work, but the ASH staff assured me that the Highlights of ASH International series of meetings—which began this year in February in Istanbul, continued with the Hanoi event, and culminated at the end of April in São Paulo—are an important part of ASH’s mission to enhance clinical care, research, and education around the world. They were right.
Highlights of ASH International began in 2009 to bring together representatives from national hematology societies and build strong relationships with our partner societies around the world. Funding, in part, comes from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation endowment, which makes it possible for trainees to attend the Highlights of ASH International meetings. This year, ASH has sponsored 111 trainees from more than 35 countries.
The recent meeting in Hanoi attracted nearly 400 attendees from Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. A “Trainee Day” provided international trainees with instruction and mentoring on clinical research projects. They also enjoyed a “Lunch With the Experts” session where they had the opportunity to ask ASH faculty about challenging cases. I was so inspired by their passion for hematology.
In between sessions, there was a 30-minute break in an adjacent ballroom with delectable food and refreshments. There was also an ASH booth with educational handouts and notebooks. The ASH booth was crowded with trainees and all the material was gone in under 20 minutes (note to bring more next year). The lunches with faculty and trainees were so rewarding. The trainees printed out PowerPoint slides of especially difficult cases from their clinic to discuss the most effective treatments. I learned about their training programs, the long hours, the crowded rooms, and the limited resources many of them face daily. None of these challenges diminished their passion for hematology, medical education, or even research.
Another highlight for me was meeting the presidents of hematology societies from around the world, an invaluable opportunity to cultivate relationships and heighten awareness of the multiple global programs ASH sponsors. Lastly, I strongly suspect that the clinical knowledge and wisdom gained by the attendees is helping patients around the world.
I loved my trip to Vietnam, and I returned home humbled by my global hematology colleagues and grateful for the resources and support available to me to treat patients and conduct research. As the ASH staff and my close colleagues will attest, I will never become one of the seasoned international travelers that they are, but the trip opened my mind and made me even prouder to be a member of ASH.