2021 - The Year of Connecting Virtually

Connecting virtually is nothing new for the IAAH council. Starting in 2009, then president, Lyn Bearinger, established monthly virtual calls via Skype with council members. Located across the globe, finding a meeting time that worked for everyone was challenging, but the ability to host these monthly calls virtually created a new workspace for the council that hadn’t previously existed. Enter in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic and unfortunately the rest of the world was forced to join us in this virtual space, transitioning from traditional, in-person gatherings to virtual meetings at warp speed.

As we continue to fight COVID-19, efforts are being made among organizations and businesses to keep connecting and building relationships while keeping people safe. Many work settings, meetings, and social gatherings have transitioned to online platforms and continue to utilize this modality well into 2021. Pivoting from in person to virtual is not easy; however, two organizations that IAAH works closely with, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) and International Adolescent Health Week (IAHW) have both utilized virtual platforms to continue sharing their messages about support for adolescents and those who work with or on behalf of adolescents.

After canceling their 2020 annual conference, SAHM knew the importance of hosting a conference in 2021 even if it was a virtual event. “The need to bring our SAHM members together for mutual support and sharing their innovative practice was a top priority for us in 2021,” said Ryan Norton, SAHM Executive Director. Utilizing virtual exhibitor booths and creating interactive sessions throughout the program led to a very rich conference. IAAH staffed a virtual vendor booth and hosted a live session at SAHM. Despite the challenges of a virtual conference, the IAAH vendor booth saw over 500 “visitors” and we were able to interact with IAAH members and supporters via the chat feature during the virtual exhibit hall.

The annual IAAH session at SAHM was also well received. We had 87 people participate in the live session where we rejoiced in reconnecting with our colleagues, provided regional updates from several of our regional vice presidents, and shared committee updates. Our new education committee was introduced, which aims to support the meaningful inclusion of adolescent health principles in the training of all health care professionals, focusing on adolescents and young adults in low- and middle-income countries. Our Young Professionals Network (YPN) focused on training and career development needs of young adolescent health professionals and produced several webinars in 2020. Available on the IAAH YouTube channel, the YPN had conversations around leadership, COVID-19’s impact on adolescent health and education, along with mentoring and education opportunities.

IAAH and IAAH YPN also played an active part in promoting International Adolescent Health Week (IAHW), a grass-roots initiative for young people, their health care providers, teachers, parents, advocates, and communities to come together and work toward the goal of improving health and well-being for youth across the globe. An online organization that empowers youth to promote IAHW in their own communities, IAHW also had to shift their focus this year and do more online activities. The virtual platform, however, allowed them to engage effectively with the first ever global youth advisory board. These youth helped to develop, map out, and promote events. “The theme this year, Adolescent Resilience in the Face of a Pandemic, was perfect as youth and those who support young people joined together to make sure IAHW was still a success despite occurring in the middle of a pandemic,” said Laura Offutt, founder of IAHW. To view the global reach that IAHW had, click here for a video recap.

Despite COVID-19 creating unprecedented challenges for individuals around the globe, adolescent health providers joined together in 2021 to show their support for one another and to continue to advocate and serve adolescents.

About the Author

Jenna Baumgartner, MS, Executive Administrator, IAAH. She is a member of the IAAH Communications Committee.

Peggy Stager, MD, FAAP, Director, Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics, Case Western University, School of Medicine; MetroHealth Medical Center. She is a member of the IAAH Communications Committee.

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