Pharmaceutical & Health Technology

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The PHT Meeting: How it Started

  • 1.  The PHT Meeting: How it Started

    Posted 09-26-2022 12:15
    Edited by Susan Gleckner 09-27-2022 16:46
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    The 50th anniversary of the founding of PHT as a Division is celebrated by PHT Chair John Chu, Program Chair Sonal Shukla, and Past Chair Janet Weiss, in Orlando, 2016

    Revisiting how the PHT Meeting began seems appropriate in light of its 35th anniversary.
    (A version of this story was posted on PHT Connect in February 2020.) 


    I was curious about the origins of the annual Pharmaceutical & Health Technology Meeting, so I asked Kerry Kushinka and Barbara Boyajian, longtime PHT members and friends, who suggested also talking to Diane (Shaffer) Torrance and Joanne Lustig, more friends. (Another reason to attend this meeting: long-term friendships).

    The early pioneers listed below gathered in-person in September 2017 to tell the story of the earliest PHT Meetings:

    • Kerry Kushinka - 1st PHT Meeting Planner; 1985 PHT Program Chair; 1985-86 PHT Chair-Elect; 1986-87 PHT Chair; E.R. Squibb & Sons; Knoll Pharmaceuticals; Ayerst Laboratories; retired from PharmIntell Consulting in 2020
    • Joanne Lustig - 2nd PHT Meeting Planner; Knoll Pharmaceuticals; Outsell, Inc.; retired from Mathematica Policy Research in 2018
    • Diane Shaffer Torrance - 5th PHT Meeting Planner; Ayerst Laboratories; DePuy Synthes, a Johnson & Johnson company
    • Barbara Boyajian - on Planning Committees for multiple PHT Meetings; Ayerst Laboratories; retired from J&J's Pharmaceutical R&D, now known as Janssen, in 2009

    Like any good info pro, Kerry arrived with files from her tenure as PHT Chair in 1986-87(and even some files that had belonged to Diane). Not surprisingly, once the documents were placed in the center of the four info pros, the meeting minutes, CapLits, and overheads were immediately organized.  (For younger readers, overheads are individual, transparent 8.5" x 11" sheets of plastic on which presentations were printed for use with an overhead projector).  Kerry, Joanne, Diane, and Barbara quickly read excerpts out loud, and shared many memories and laughs.

    The Start

    The "Pharmaceutical Division" of SLA was originally a Section of the Science-Technology Division of SLA, which was founded in 1947.  Members of the Pharma Section voted in 1965 to pull out of Sci-Tech and become a full-fledged Division, thereby gaining greater financial support from SLA and representation in SLA (see CapLits, Spring 2015, p. 16 for more on this).

    Two decades after the founding of PHT, the idea of a meeting solely for the Pharma Division emerged. Barbara said, "SLA had gotten so big it was hard to find like-people. There were a lot of us around, but we didn't have opportunity to get together." Soon the outgoing PHT leadership decided the Division should have a regional meeting and it cajoled Kerry to serve as Program Chair for that initial conference (and then subsequently also run for Chair). 

    There were other, more practical reasons for the Pharma Division to facilitate its own meeting. The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PMA, now PhRMA, founded in 1958) -- which had an information section -- and the Drug Information Association (DIA, founded in 1964) were being confused with SLA's Pharmaceutical Division. The meetings that the PMA staged for info pros, were, in fact, an inspiration for the inaugural PHT Meeting. Kerry recalls that the "PMA meetings were awesome. Although they preferred that we not mention the term librarian."

    The initial PHT conference, held in 1985 at the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick, NJ, was called a "regional" meeting -- as were the immediate subsequent annual gatherings – to draw from the local area. At that time, as continues today, New Jersey had a concentration of pharmaceutical companies. The next annual meeting was held in Somerset, NJ, and the third in Princeton, NJ. The fourth meeting was staged in Philadelphia – historically a popular city for the Division meeting -- at BIOSIS. After the third PHT Meeting, the Division, through a call for volunteers, sought to replicate these PA-NJ-NY regional meetings in other areas of the country, but no organizers came forward.

    The initial assemblies were one-day affairs, unlike the multi-day gatherings that are familiar today, with concurrent programming sessions. The vendor exhibits staged during lunch or closing receptions.

     A Hit

    The first gatherings were a success. In the SLA-NJ Chapter Bulletin from 1985, Kerry wrote: "This was the first meeting of the Pharmaceutical Division being held apart from the SLA Annual Meetings. Based upon the enthusiastic response, it will likely become an annual event in the New Jersey-New York-Philadelphia area."

    The second through fifth meetings averaged 80 member attendees. The initial cost to attended was $48.  The Division realized a "profit" each year from the Meeting. New Division members increased after each meeting. Diane remembered, "Membership was growing. People said, 'Thank goodness we met you.' Everyone was glad to talk to each other."


    What's notable is that some things have not changed as far as programming goes. Issues discussed in the early days of the PHT Division are very similar to those faced today, like "Career Paths for Information and Library Professionals" (1986), "Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting" (1987), and "Information Technology Trends" (1989).

    Vendor Support

    One aspect of the PHT Meeting that attendees have repeatedly reported as a great benefit is the opportunity to see vendors in-person, old and new.  The vendors like the meeting too – and have from the start.  It's not clear how many vendors may have been at the initial meeting, but there were six at the second meeting, including longstanding support from products Diogenes, Derwent, IMS, and Pharmaprojects. (In 2018 there were over 30 vendors.)  

    Back then, vendors would demonstrate their products, including copy machines, and otherwise discuss new technology. Kerry noted, "We were happy and surprised that vendors wanted to come." There is no denying that the PHT Meeting has been staged annually for over 30 years in large part because of vendor sponsorship.

    Volunteers Make It Happen

    No PHT Meeting would take place without strategic leaders and volunteers, and the early gatherings were no different. Barbara remembers planning committees sitting in her living room and stuffing meeting packets. She said, "We could all depend on each other and worked on different things.  A lot of people contributed in small ways."

    Spring or Annual?

    Because PHT Meetings were usually held in March or April, the name eventually became the PHT Spring Meeting. The weather has always been variable. Snow fell at the 2007 Spring Meeting held in Boston, and there was a heat wave in Princeton in April 2002.


    Over the years, PHT members have expressed that the annual PHT Meetings are an invaluable benefit of their membership. Diane said, "Every time we held one it got better." For Kerry, it's been satisfying to see the PHT Meeting take place every year since 1985, saying its success has been "a continuum of knowledge and experience."

    Monday Night Social Event 

    Nick Collison, Keida Spurlock, and Julia Urwin at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia 2019

    Click here to read a history of the PHT Meeting Monday Night Social Event. This year's will be held at the Franklin Institute. Attached is a list of the social events. meeting venues, and attendance numbers (for which there are records) for previous meetings.


    Registration Update

    So that we can best plan ahead for capacity purposes, now is the time you should register for the meeting. 

    PHT 35th Anniversary Meeting Info SUMMARY                                                                     

    Meeting Agenda

    Click to view the agenda.

    Meeting Registration

    Click to register for the PHT 35th Anniversary Meeting by October 9, 2022.   Registration in-person will also be available on-site by credit card.

    (Full Registration includes meals and snacks from Sunday evening dinner to Tuesday lunch.)

    Hotel Registration

    The hotel room reservation block for this meeting has closed.

    Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown

    201 North 17th Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103  

    Dear Boss Letter 

    List of companies attending

    Susan Gleckner