We at NIAMS are most thankful for the more than 50 participants, representing more than 40 different organizations, who came to the NIH campus in Bethesda for the 2019 NIAMS Coalition Outreach and Education Day. It was a unique opportunity to reconnect with the larger NIAMS community. It was a great pleasure to talk to so many members of our Institute’s Coalition, an independent consortium of more than 90 professional and voluntary organizations interested in the mission and research areas of the NIAMS. This was the first Coalition event without Steve Katz, our former director, who was always an energetic presence. While he was sorely missed, Steve would have been proud of this year's event.
In preparing for this event, I kept thinking about a perpetual challenge that the NIAMS faces: getting the word out about our funding opportunities. The Institute takes great pride in the top-notch science that we support, but we also know we might be missing out on some great research ideas. Coalition organizations may be well-positioned to help us continue working toward improving health in diseases and conditions affecting bones, joints, muscles and skin. On Outreach and Education Day, I asked participants how we can work as a community to better communicate funding opportunities. Coalition members told us that social media, and in some cases blog posts, are ways they have had success in reaching audiences. We look forward to exploring new collaborative opportunities with Coalition organizations to connect with a wider pool of applicants.
This year's plenary sessions included a presentation from Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D., the chief engagement officer for the All of Us Research Program, who briefed Coalition members on the program's progress. We also heard from Helene Langevin, M.D., director of the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), who highlighted integrative approaches to pain management. Eleanor Perfetto, Ph.D., M.S., executive vice president for strategic initiatives for the National Health Council, discussed patient engagement across the health ecosystem.
The Coalition meeting included breakout sessions to allow opportunities for interaction among meeting attendees and NIAMS and NIH staff. In the morning, sessions were held under the umbrella of Collaborations to Foster Innovative Research and Training. The sessions were divided into Systemic Rheumatic Disease and Skin Disease; Muscle Diseases and Bone Diseases and Osteoarthritis, and Orthopaedic Diseases and Disorders. The afternoon breakout sessions were titled Clinical Trials: How to Educate Patients and Providers, and Engaging Underserved and Minority Audiences.
A new feature at this year's event was an "unconference" that was held during the lunch hour. While most meetings consist of a structured agenda created by the organizers, an unconference puts the agenda power in the hands of meeting attendees. Participants suggested discussion topics and then joined small groups during lunch to share insights on topics of interest to them. This and other parts of the day offered plenty of chances to make new connections and re-energize existing relationships. Coalition members serve as an invaluable voice for their communities, and meetings like this are a great opportunity for us to all share challenges and successes.
While a major focus of the meeting is highlighting what NIAMS and NIH are doing, this meeting is an opportunity for NIAMS staff to learn as well. Exchanging questions and comments from meeting participants can serve as a powerful reminder of which areas the Institute excels in, as well as areas that could be strengthened.
I would like to thank the Coalition Co-Chairs for their hard work to make this meeting possible, as well as for the dedicated NIAMS staff who made this happen. This year’s co-chairs were Anna Hyde, vice president of advocacy and access at the Arthritis Foundation and Blake McDonald, manager of congressional policy for the American Academy of Dermatology. This is a shining example of what happens when NIAMS staff and Coalition members come together in pursuit of moving research and health care forward. The NIAMS looks forward to working with the Coalition in the coming new year.
Robert H. Carter, M.D.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health