Oncologist Mom With Baby Bounced From Poster Session

'Safety' on Meeting Floor Is Cited on Twitter

Nick Mulcahy

November 05, 2018

Emma Holliday, MD, and her baby boy Micah were turned away from a poster session where she was due to present novel research at the annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), recently held in San Antonio.

Holliday, who is a radiation oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas, tweeted about the surprise rejection of mother and child (who was strapped to her chest in a carrier):

"Childcare plans fell through last minute had to bring my 6mo old along to register at #ASTRO18. Unfortunately, we were denied entry by the bouncers at the exhibit hall, so I couldn't stand by my little poster. Bummer. #RadOncWomen #WomeninMedicine #workingmom"

ASTRO quickly responded, tweeting that "safety on the showfloor is our priority."

Holliday's original tweet generated 371 retweets and 1200 likes. It also inspired 117 comments, which is high for a tweet from a scientific meeting.

Some Twitter commentators poked fun at ASTRO's claim that the baby was excluded because "safety on the showfloor is our priority."

Jennifer Cowart, MD, an internist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, tweeted a photo of herself and her 8-month-old Henry at a poster session of the 2017 Society of Hospital Medicine conference in Las Vegas. She appears in the photo with a friend Glynda Caga-Anan Raynaldo, MD, a hospitalist in Houston. Cowart wrote:

"Super lame! I wore my babies to multiple conferences in general med and hospital med. No one was worried about a stray poster or a rouge thumbtack causing grievous bodily harm."

Cowart, a mother of two, told Medscape Medical News that she has never attended a conference that included childcare.

"I have frequently brought my children into poster sessions and even quiet lecture halls with me. I have been fortunate that no one has ever made me leave or made them leave," she wrote in an email. Cowart added that if one of her children made noise they would leave immediately to avoid disturbing the lecturers or other attendees.

"I strongly support ways of including working parents at meetings, and one way to make it easier and more enjoyable is to allow them to bring very small children with them," she summarized.

Jennifer Cowart, MD, son Henry, and friend at the 2017 Society of Hospital Medicine meeting.

Notably, ASTRO also arranged for MD Anderson's Holliday to present her poster the next day, without the baby. A grateful and gracious Holliday responded: "Thank you so much!"

ASTRO noted that childcare was offered at the meeting — and then canceled — when only one parent signed up. The annual meeting is "super supportive of #RadOncWomen and parents" tweeted one physician who serves as an editor of the organization's lead journal. "Agreed!" subtweeted Holliday in response.

Indeed, one day after the baby ban in the meeting hall, Holliday ran outdoors with Micah (in a stroller) and other MD Anderson staff in the ASTRO 5k. Plus, "as a courtesy to new mothers," there was a Mother's Room in the convention center, which Holliday used.

So, children were allowed at the meeting in various places but not on the meeting floor.

Per online statements, ASTRO meeting policy is that "no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to...meeting sessions and the Exhibit Hall."

"We do not have plans to adjust it [the policy] for next year," said an ASTRO spokesperson in an email to Medscape Medical News.

ASTRO's meeting policies were unexpected, suggested Holliday.

In another tweet, she recalled going to meetings as a child in the 1990s with her mother, a neurologist. "I watched her talks, saw posters with her, and was inspired to go into medicine. I guess that's why I didn't think it would be an issue for my baby to come with me in 2018," Holliday explained.

However, another major society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), says it does not allow anyone under 18 in sessions or exhibit halls without special permission. "This year [in 2019], there will be childcare offered at McCormick Place [in Chicago] for the annual meeting," a spokesperson told Medscape Medical News

In the end, Holliday presented her poster, which described preliminary work on proton therapy for anal cancer, "showing ability to spare unnecessary dose to the pelvic bone marrow and other organs at risk." A pilot trial will soon open at MD Anderson to see whether intensity-modulated proton therapy reduces toxicity in this setting.

Follow Medscape senior journalist Nick Mulcahy on Twitter: @MulcahyNick

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