I attended the recent American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA) 2023 conference in Nashville, which ran from May 20 to May 24. It was full of action as always, although this year, not all the action was desirable or anticipated (more on that later).

The crux of the conference is a wonderfully varied docket of meetings, ranging from colorful open sessions to a plethora of educational meetings, showcasing the wide variety of topics and areas in which PAs work. For example, sessions included suturing workshops to lectures about all of the medical specialties in which PAs practice. There was truly something for everyone and it was exhilarating to be among over 6000 PAs at the same time, all there to learn, network, and even party a little.

Every year, I like to attend the AAPA Board of Directors (BOD) meeting and hear what’s happening. This year, however, most of the BOD meeting was in Executive Session, meaning that members were not allowed in the meeting. Unlike past years, the postexecutive session of the BOD was of little consequence.

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A highlight of the conference is the annual meeting of the House of Delegates (HOD), which is focused on policy and, in the past, worked alongside the BOD to make policy. This changed around 2009, when the HOD’s ability to make policy was removed, making it instead a body that presents recommendations to the AAPA Board of Directors. The change in the authority of the HOD still does not sit well with many members as described by an HOD leader: “Now it’s like we just send memos to the Board.” (Full disclosure: I am a delegate at the HOD for the AAPA specialty organization Society of PAs in Addiction Medicine).

This year’s HOD session was lively as always, with wide-ranging discussions on the issues of the day. One of the major pluses of the HOD is the civility and collegiality seen there, regardless of the topics, which can range from gun safety to LGBTQ+ issues to how to name awards. It’s a bit of a 3-ring circus, in a very good way. The civility and collegiality should stand as a model for other political organizations.

This year was not without some angst, with tension riding high among some attendees because of the recent gun violence in Nashville, and Tennessee’s legislature recently passing laws aimed at the restriction of LGBTQ+ and transgender rights. Signs were posted throughout the conference about safety, noting that guns were not allowed, and offering advisement about how to stay safe when going out in public including not wearing the large conference placards outside the convention center. The placards, however, must be worn when entering or exiting any conference session. These starkly worded warnings caused me to feel a little edgy.

There were 2 issues at AAPA 2023 that were of concern. One was the initial invitation of well-known commentator Bari Weiss to moderate a large session panel. Weiss is a former writer at The New York Times and a current writer and podcaster who has written and spoken about transgender issues that have rankled many. There was much concern and pushback from members, myself included, about her appearance, particularly in a city where anti-transgender activity has been very visible. To their credit, conference organizers removed her from the schedule before the conference, which was a very welcome development for many attendees.

This year’s conference marked the broadest spectrum of topics that I can recall, including several presentations regarding LGBTQ+/transgender/gender-affirming care. This was a very positive development in my assessment, although all did not go smoothly. There were 2 gender-affirming care/transgender health presentations that were unfortunately disrupted by audience members who, when coming to a microphone to ask a question of the speaker, took the opportunity to ask questions that were clearly inflammatory and anti-transgender. I was not there, but I understand that neither of the 2 people had conference ID badges on, which should have prevented them from getting in the room.

These events were upsetting to many attendees and future conference events may be well-advised to have added security at topics that are known to draw biased, angry, and prejudiced comments. Certainly, this will be a topic of discussion in planning future events.

In the end, this year reminded me of how lucky I am to be a PA, how much I appreciate the diversity of our profession, and how glad I am to be able to serve the myriad of patients that I do as a PA.

See you next year in Houston!

Visit Clinical Advisor’s meetings section for more coverage of AAPA 2023.