Kidney Week is facing an existential crisis

Painting faced an existential crisis with the invention of photography. The platonic ideal of making a picture that fully represented reality was made meaningless by the invention of photography. The goal of painting pivoted from realism to impressionism, surrealism and subsequent movements. Painting faced its crisis by changing the definition of what it strived for. And to be clear artists that spent their career mastering realism didn’t cover to the new movement. New artists came along to fill those niche that had growth and potential despite photography.

Medical education is facing a change in the way students digest it.

Go to a pre-clinical lecture at any medical school in the US and you can find yourself a seat. It doesn’t matter the size of the lecture hall or the size of the med school class, students don’t go to class. Lectures are videotaped and can be streamed. Students gravitate to the most efficient way for them to learn and surprise, it is not sitting in lectures watching slideshows. If the students likes slide shows they will watch it at double speed with the PowerPoint open in front of them, available for them to make notes. It is nothing like the lectures I attended in med school.

Slideshows are tired, allow and inefficient. Students are routing around them. Good for them. I love that students are finding ways to learn in ways most efficient to each individual’s mind.

ASN’s problem is that Kidney Week is slideshow-learning. Selling slideshow-learning to millenials who don’t go to slideshows even when they paid tens of thouands of dollars is going to be like selling sand in the Mojave.

ASN has to make like 19th-century painting and pivot to a different platonic ideal.

What do I mean?

I mean a Shark Tank with real money on the line

I mean TED-like talks

I mean an American Idol-like competition for the best educational lectures.

Have educators around the country compete to make the best lecture on the same subject. Have them compete with the finals at Kidney Week. Rotate the subject every year, but make it a fundamental lecture that everyone needs to give:

  • Acid-base
  • Hyponatremia
  • CKD
  • AKI
  • Dialysis for the internist

Pathology lecture that uses microscopes rather than slides


Biopsy training with cadavers

Ultrasound training with patients

A recreational run

With pre- and post- sodium levels and AKI biomarkers

Cooking classes

Panel discussions with patients


ASN is using a fifty year old model of what makes a medical meeting and if they don’t adapt there will be fewer and fewer, and older and older, people attending. The ER and critical care crew have layed the blue print with SMACC, nephrology should be the first specialty to follow it down the rabbit hole.

3 Replies to “Kidney Week is facing an existential crisis”

  1. Joel, I agree with you completely, but the scope of the problem is much bigger than you describe. It would be one thing if the problem was the business model and delivery system of the ASN, but attending ASN Kidney Week was still the only and best way to learn about all the important new developments in renal medicine and allied fields. But increasingly attendees at ASN Kidney Week are likely to be blind-sided by important future developments that seem to be actively excluded from the meetings. In some instances, they would learn more by staying home and paying attention to social media. If you look at next month’s (December 2017) issue of Scientific American and the article The Top Ten Emerging Technologies of 2017, (pp. 33, 35, 36) the three that affect kidney medicine directly are not being discussed at all in the ASN meeting: Artificial Intelligence Vision (Machine Intelligence Surpassing Pathologists at Biopsy Interpretation), The Human Cell Atlas, and Liquid Biopsy.

    Similarly, the first ever ISN Global Kidney Health Summit co-published in the Lancet and Kidney International in October contains no mention of any of the elements one would logically expect would be a component of the exponential future in nephrology: “repair”, “ex vivo perfusion”, “regenerative medicine”, “tissue engineering”, “artificial intelligence”, “artificial organs”, “xenotransplantation”, and “human cell atlas”. It is as if powerful conservative forces are at work to prevent these new concepts being discussed.

    It is not just a matter of the ASN meeting needing to appeal to millennials. The meeting actually needs be disseminating the information about the exponential future nephrology faces and not just the assumption of a linear “business as usual” future that has no chance of actually occurring.

  2. Not sure I agree with you. This year there was a plenary session on creating AV fistulas by growing human arteries from a few cells and actually implanting them in humans. And in previous years ASN had plenary sessions on regenerative medicine, printing kidneys with inkjet printers and growing artificial pancreas by culturing beta cells in a vat. I think the plenary sessions have their eyes firmly on the future.

    1. I am very glad to hear that! Certainly that is a trend to be encouraged. It suggests that the blind siding reflected in the Global Kidney Health Summit publications does not extend to the ASN meetings. Still it is good to keep the eye on the ball and make sure that important advances such as the Human Cell Atlas Project that are using social media (as well as conventional journal publications in the best journals) for disseminating information are not left out of ASN discussions.

      It is healthy to discuss ways to make major meetings better. Everyone benefits.

      Best regards. – Kim

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