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A Woman’s Journey Turns 10
The ladies are not the only ones who have benefitted from the popular health conference; Hopkins has, too

When the author of acclaimed books on such downbeat topics as bipolar disorder and suicide comes out with a new work on exuberance, you know it’s time to celebrate. And when that author, Hopkins psychologist Kay Jamison, kicks off A Woman’s Journey on the third Saturday in November, you can bet that the prevailing sentiment will be much like the theme of the book itself: exuberance.

This year, AWJ turns 10. Ever since it was launched in 1995, the blockbuster health conference has made it a point to impart Hopkins’ own brand of up-to-the-minute health information to women. “It’s been a wonderful success,” says Hal Fox, director of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics and chair of the AWJ Physician Advisory Board. “Conveying sound information to the public is a responsibility we take pride in fulfilling, and AWJ is a leading example.”

Conference-goers aren’t the only ones who have benefitted from AWJ; Hopkins has, too. Each year AWJ yields dozens of new patients and donors. Out of a recent conference, for example, came 159 first-time patients and a similar number of established patients who sought out new specialities. Less tangible, but perhaps more important, is the general goodwill AWJ has engendered. It has helped soften the hard-edged, insular image Hopkins often projects and demonstrated that the institution is neither too big, nor too impersonal, to reach out to individuals with information and help.

Faculty emerge from their clinics and labs. In seminars, they impart the latest information on treatments and discoveries. They mingle with attendees over lunch. “All this demonstrates that we are here to take care of you, that we are not just about research and teaching,” says Lillie Shockney, director of education and outreach at the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. “You will not be just a number at Hopkins.”

Unlike other similar conferences of this scale, AWJ does not import speakers from elsewhere but relies instead entirely on its own stable of experts. In all, 350 Hopkins faculty have participated since the conference began. They have found a receptive, engaged audience.

Registrants—approximately 1,000 women and, yes, a few men—are well-educated. (Nearly 40 percent have advanced degrees and about a third are executives, managers or professionals.) Representing 15 different states (with most from the Baltimore metro area), they come to learn about new advances in medicine or about specific diseases. “They are a joy to speak to,” says Shockney. “They’re energetically charged, and they genuinely want to learn. They really do travel with you. It’s an easy group to take on a journey.”

A veteran speaker on surviving breast cancer, Shockney has presented twice at AWJ. With all the faculty, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, CEU applicants, sponsors, and some 100 volunteers who actually run the event, AWJ, she says, is an enormous undertaking. “It certainly doesn’t happen by magic.”

In fact, AWJ is a carefully scripted performance, one that is tweaked and fine-tuned each year. Fox calls it a work in progress. “That in itself has been a reason for the continued and increasing interest. The leadership has been responsive to feedback from the attendees.”

Seminars topics are chosen largely on the basis of an electronic survey of the previous year’s participants. “So the selection is shaped by the potential registrants,” says Leslie Waldman, director of competitive strategy for Hopkins Medicine. Seminars dealing with diet and exercise, preserving memory, alternative medicine, and heart disease have traditionally been the most popular, but, says Waldman, “we always make sure that 30 to 50 percent of the topics are new.” Top picks so far this year are “Women and Heart Disease,” “Improving Your Memory,” and “The Not So Extreme Makeover for the More Mature Woman.”

AWJ has been a moveable feast. It outgrew the Sheraton and landed at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront four years ago. The BMW has a hidden benefit. Located on the water in booming Fells Point, it is only minutes from the medical campus. That suggests to registrants just how much the inner-city neighborhoods surrounding Hopkins are changing.

When conference participants arrive at the Marriot this year, they already will have chosen four seminars from a field of 32. They’ll attend two in the morning and two in the afternoon. First on the agenda, though, following a continental breakfast, will be Jamison. This will be a return engagement for the mood disorders expert; she was AWJ’s second plenary speaker in 1996. Her talk is titled “One Woman’s Journey: Exuberance!”

Azar Nafisi, author of the best-selling Reading Lolita in Tehran, will deliver the luncheon presentation. She was a teacher of literature at the University of Tehran, until she was expelled for refusing to wear the veil. Nafisi then gathered seven young women, all former students, at her house one morning a week to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. Her book is a memoir of those experiences.

AWJ presenters have come from all parts of Johns Hopkins. Nafisi is currently a visiting fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies. D. A. Henderson, who spoke in 2001 not long after Sept. 11, was affiliated with the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Most, of course, have come from Medicine, and they have included high-profile physicians like pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Surgery Chair Julie Freischlag.

Every year, 96 percent of survey respondents rank AWJ as “excellent” or “very good.” With this kind of response, conference leaders are considering taking their show on the road. This year, they put a foot in the water when they took a mini-version of AWJ to Easton, Md. And Waldman says other venues have already been explored. So physicians, take note: It may not be too early to start packing your bags.

Anne Bennett Swingle

Join the Journey

When: Saturday, Nov. 20, 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, 700 Aliceanna Street

Cost: $70 (10 percent discount for Hopkins employees)

Supported by sponsors such as the Women’s Board and Baltimore magazine, the conference offers reduced rates for students, a limited number of scholarships, and CEUs for nurses, social workers, dietitians, professional counselors and therapists, health educators, pharmacists, radiation technologists, physical therapists and personal trainers.

For a complete list of topics, parking and transportation information, and registration details, call 410-955-8660, or visit Online registration is available.



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