David Hooper, MD

Founded in 1899, The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), Washington, DC, has grown from 59 members to more than 39,000. Throughout its history, the ASM has brought in members from different disciplines and helped advance the industry through its proactive distribution of knowledge throughout the industry. From June 16 to 19, the association is hosting its 112th general meeting (ASM2012) in San Francisco, where industry members can network, discover innovations on the market, and explore foreign disciplines through one of the many educational tracks. Clinical Lab Products recently sat down with David Hooper, MD, president of the ASM, to discuss the meeting, the association as a whole, and some key topics affecting the industry.

CLP: What’s your personal history with the ASM?

Hooper: I’m an MD who is a specialist in infectious diseases and does research in microbiology and antibiotic resistance. When I was in training as a fellow, I joined the society and have been involved in their meetings—the annual General Meeting and ICAAC [Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy]—for over 30 years. I served on the ICAAC Scientific Program Committee for about 11 years, first as a member and then as vice chair and chair. I had also previously served on the Books Committee of ASM Press as well as on the editorial board of one of ASM’s 11 peer-review journals. Most recently, I was elected president of ASM, having served 1 year as president-elect, and next year I will be in the role immediate past president.

CLP: What role did you play in shaping ASM2012?

Hooper: The chair and vice chair of the general meeting program planning committee take the lead roles in organizing the scientific program, but the president serves on the committee and collaborates with the chair and vice chair. Because of my clinical background I have also had a more direct role in helping to develop the diagnostic microbiology and epidemiology track within the meeting that is specifically designed to address the interests and needs of members who work in the area of clinical microbiology. The president also provides at the general meeting an update on the state of the society and organizes the president’s forum, which includes speakers and topics that have broad relevance to microbiologists.

CLP: What is the ASM’s mission?

Hooper: The mission of ASM encompasses five areas. These areas include support of programs of education, training, and public information; publication of journals and books, and convening of meetings, workshops, and colloquia; promotion of the contributions and promise of the microbiological sciences; recognition of achievement and distinction among microbiologists; and setting of standards of ethical and professional behavior. With our meetings and publications, we facilitate scientific exchange not just within microbiology proper but with a host of related scientific disciplines that use and depend on methods and systems common to microbiology. We also provide our members with mentoring and networking resources to advance their career development and have outreach programs to promote teaching of and careers in microbiology at the undergraduate level. Finally, we work to educate the lay public about the broad importance of microbiology in the environment and human health.

CLP: Why is this an important conference for members of the clinical laboratory community?

Hooper: The general meeting is one of the major meetings where clinical microbiologists, from PhD-level scientists to bench technologists, can get together to learn about the latest advances in their area, but also to expand their learning to include new information in other areas of microbiology. The diagnostic microbiology and epidemiology track within the meeting—a meeting within a meeting of sorts—was created at last year’s meeting and focuses on topics of direct relevance to the practice of clinical microbiology. The new track was very well received and will continue this year with improvements suggested by the clinical microbiology attendees themselves. The other advantage to the clinical microbiology community is the opportunity to learn of advances outside of their specific area. The meeting is organized with plenary sessions in the mornings that cover broad-reaching and cross-disciplinary topics that encourage attendees to learn about areas other than their own. In the afternoons, sessions are organized by topics more directly within microbiology subdisciplines. So the meeting provides both a breadth and depth of topic coverage.

CLP: What are some things attendees and members have been asking for?

Hooper: Last year we organized a new session dedicated to clinical microbiology awards and award lectures. Feedback from attendees indicated a preference for integrating individual award lectures into the scientific sessions themselves, as had been done in prior years. In response to this feedback, for ASM2012 these award lectures will again be part of the scientific program. In a similar manner, the representatives of the program planning committee developing the diagnostic microbiology and epidemiology track reviewed feedback and attendance for last year’s sessions. Together with this feedback and consideration of the new information available and topics not recently covered, they have put together an extensive, and what I think is an exciting, program for clinical microbiologists. In addition, there is now additional time for peer interactions at new evening poster sessions Sunday and Monday of the meeting.

CLP: So member/attendee feedback plays a major role in shaping the conference?

Hooper: We solicit feedback both formally and informally during and after every meeting. There’s a detailed questionnaire that is sent out after each general meeting. All of the members of the program planning committee and I also get informal feedback from the people that we’re interacting with at the meeting and make our own assessments of what is or isn’t working in the sessions we attend. Feedback at multiple levels is exceptionally important for continuing to improve the general meeting each year.

CLP: How do you expect the attendance of ASM2012 will compare to that of previous years?

Hooper: Thus far, we’re tracking ahead of the most recent 3 or 4 years. We won’t have final numbers until the meeting itself, but based on the registrations at the same times before each meeting, we’re excited to see that we are tracking substantially ahead, and we are looking forward to a great meeting with great attendance. We hope the meeting improvements are indeed attracting more registrants, and of course, what’s not to like about San Francisco? It’s a great venue.

CLP: What are some of the new offerings at the conference this year?

Hooper: We are adding this year two new formats for sessions in the diagnostic microbiology and epidemiology track, a quiz session to test knowledge on difficult diagnostic cases and issues, and a literature review session that will cover important articles in clinical microbiology published in the past year. These types of sessions have been extremely popular at the ICAAC meeting, and I anticipate clinical microbiologists will find them equally valuable at ASM2012.

CLP: What are some of the important industry topics that will be covered at ASM2012?

Hooper: I think there’s a lot of interest—especially among the clinical microbiology community— in new technologies and diagnostic methods, both nucleic acid-based and protein-based systems, so that sessions that deal with these emerging diagnostic and susceptibility testing methods, their strengths and limitations, and how they could best be used in clinical laboratories will be an important part of the program. Diagnostic microbiology companies also have extensive exhibits at the meeting, so that attendees can see firsthand what the capabilities of their products are, and the number of companies having exhibits at ASM2012 has exceeding our expectations. It should be a full exhibit floor for attendees to visit.

CLP: How much of the conference is focused on continuing education?

Hooper: It’s an important focus, and we continue to offer continuing education credits for many sessions, particularly those for the clinical microbiology community.

CLP: If someone has attended previous ASM conferences, why should they attend this one?

Hooper: I hope that their prior experience was a good one, and we’ve been responsive to feedback from attendees, so ASM2012 should be even better. There has been strong attendance from the clinical microbiology community over many years, and each meeting provides the opportunity for attendees to get lots of new information not available at previous meeting as well as the opportunity to network face-to-face with longtime colleagues and make new connections with other microbiologists. It’s always important for career development to keep up to date and make new professional contacts, and we hope ASM2012 provides microbiologists with an effective and fun way to do that.

CLP: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

Hooper: ASM is the oldest and largest life sciences society in the US. One of the things that I have learned as president-elect and now president is the extraordinary breadth of programs and services that the society offers its members. One of our challenges is making sure the membership knows about all of these resources so that they can take full advantage of them. In an effort to improve access to information, we have in the past year created a Clinical Microbiology portal on the ASM Web site that organizes information about programs, services, and products that are important to the clinical microbiology community and that can be easily accessed through a single site. ASM2012 and the diagnostic microbiology and epidemiology track are important components of what ASM offers to the clinical microbiology community, but there are many others as well.

Chris Gaerig is associate editor of CLP.