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Each year, the ISTSS Travel Grant Awards allow colleagues to attend the Annual Meeting who would not otherwise have been able to participate. This year, we invited the award recipients to tell us about their experiences at the meeting in Baltimore last November. The three attendees who responded were glad to have attended the meeting, and had some constructive suggestions for improvement.

Milagros Chavez-Fernandez, from Peru, sought the grant to help develop programs for earthquake survivors. She wrote that she had found the meetings worthwhile and of interest, although the schedule sometimes made it difficult to attend all the sessions one might want to hear. She noted that the focus on PTSD as an outcome of trauma limited the discussion of anxiety and depression as common sequelae as well.

Irma Martam, of Indonesia, came to the meeting to broaden her knowledge and open her mind to more possibilities for developing a program for Yayasan Pulih – a psychosocial intervention and trauma center. She said, “I had a very good and positive experience in the meeting, I met a lot of new people, was exposed to a lot of new approaches – which was quite overwhelming to me, since the timing was very short, with much information to digest.” Irma found much material of use in her plans to develop the Yayasan Pulih Foundation. Highlights for her included: the media SIG; and a session by Paul Bolton on developing assessment with limited resources, which she found very relevant to her situation in Indonesia.

Martam said, “Overall I think the meeting is well organized, full of high quality participants, with a lot of new updated knowledge in trauma and stress study. However, I think the perspective and approach from other countries than USA (especially Asia) [needs] to be increased so that we are exposed to more variety of perspective and approach.” 

Samvael Magaryan of Armenia described his goals in attending the meeting: "The idea among my colleagues in Armenia, that we should seek closer cooperation with Western countries to contribute to the further development of psychiatric services in Armenia, which broke off after the disintegration of Soviet Union, and as a result our patients are neglected and fail to achieve the recovery levels and quality of life that should now be possible. So I expect to keep up to date with new research and new resources, to continue my scientific researches, taking into consideration the actual differences of approaches of American Psychiatry to the problems of post-stress disorders from ours.” 

He found that the information gained during the Meeting was a great support for his further professional development, and very useful for many of his colleagues and students. He noted that the sessions on clinical issues in post-stress disorders were of principal interest to him, but that the program did not focus on that area as much as he had expected. "There was only a single symposium on head trauma and PTSD,” while some other sessions seemed to cover similar material without adding new information.

Like the previous respondent, he also found that one of the main limitations of the Meeting is the fact that it is more American, than International, including the participants, and main themes of the meeting as well. In general, though, he remained optimistic about the potential for information exchange.

“To all appearance, the lack of manpower, funding, scientific knowledge and skill in conducting psychiatric studies is the main hindrance in developing countries, where the evaluation of mental health services are still much in need. While manpower and funding are the most difficult to tackle, exchange of scientific ideas and research methodology is much more feasible between the developed and developing countries. This may involve both the assessment of culture-general and culture-specific environmental factors for post-stress disorders and cross-cultural validity and reliability of phenotype definition and assessment. In that sense the ISTSS meetings could advantageously differ from the other trauma-focused conferences.” 

The Travel Grant Award program is part of what helps keep the “I” in ISTSS. To be a truly international society, addressing the experience of many countries and cultures, will probably always be an aspirational goal, but these participants help bring the society further along in that direction. Supported by donations from members and a small budget from the Board, the program seeks to support early- and mid-career professionals who can have the greatest impact in their home countries. In addition, we hope that the perspectives they bring to the Annual Meetings can also have an impact on the society and the rest of those in attendance.

For more information on how to donate to or apply for travel grants, visit the ISTSS Web site.