A Historical Perspective of the American Balance Society – If you build it, will people come?
On a sunny afternoon in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 4, 2008, a small group of individuals met to discuss the notion of forming a U.S. based professional vestibular society. The idea was simple enough; form a professional organization “to represent individuals with an interest in the diagnosis and treatment of those with disorders of vestibular function, those with impaired balance abilities, and those with dizziness”.
There were four individuals in attendance during that sunny afternoon meeting; Bob Burkard, Gary Jacobson, Neil Shepard, and David Zapala. With a unanimous decision and an Ad-Hoc “Board of Directors” in place, the “Four Founding Father’s” set out to stimulate interest in the formation of the American Balance Society (ABS). Their first goal was quickly agreed upon; establishment of the first annual ABS Scientific Conference.
However, like any new scientific meeting, a great deal of preliminary work needed to be done during the initial formation year. Bylaws had to be written. A potential partnership had to be formed. A conference program had to be constructed. Meeting space had to be reserved. Abstracts had to be solicited. And a business meeting had to be developed. But one thing still lingered uncertain in the Founding Father’s minds. If they built it, would people come? Creating a scientific meeting for one year is relatively easy. Building a Society is not.
From preliminary inquiries, the interest in offering the meeting was palpable. A partnership was soon established with the American Auditory Society (AAS) and the meeting was set: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 – one day prior to the AAS Scientific Meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. It appeared formation of the American Balance Society was gaining substantial traction.
During the preliminary year, Bylaws were constructed, abstracts were solicited, and a conference program was created. Following a modestly advertised conference, a total of 43 people registered for the first annual ABS Meeting. It was a reputable Who’s Who of vestibular clinicians and researchers. The American Balance Society was officially born. But now what?
With a strong foundation and profound passion, many clinicians and researchers came together to unify the focus and mission of the Society. Led by a strong leadership, the future looked bright. The initial Board of Directors from 2008-2012 was steadfast in foresight and clear in developing the Society’s mission.
Original Board of Directors: Bob Burkard, Neil Shepard, David Zapala, Gary Jacobson and Lew Nashner joining in 2010.
Past Presidents: Gary Jacobson (2012 – 2014) Bob Burkard (2014 – 2016), Devin McCaslin (2016-2018), Neil Shepard (2018-2020), Kristen Janky (2020-2022)
Over the years, the American Balance Society prospered into a reputable Society, composed of Audiologists, Physical Therapists, Physicians and Researchers all with one similar vestibular interest and one unifying mission:
“To serve as a multi-disciplinary organization that strives not only to empower health care professionals to make evidenced-based, patient-centered decisions in the pursuit of improved clinical care for patients with dizziness, balance, and movement disorders, but to extend and expand our basic science knowledge of vestibular anatomy and physiology.”
In less than one decade, conference attendance more than doubled in size to 97 registrants in 2016. The leadership quickly expanded to President, President-Elect, six Board of Directors, and one Ex-Officio Student Representative. Together, the leadership quickly organized and established various committees that were tasked with maintaining and promoting the mission of the Society.
Since 2008, any doubt has completely subsided and faded on the initial question on the Four Founding Fathers minds; that, if you build it – will people will come? A cliché? Perhaps. But for a highly specialized field of clinical practice and research, the American Balance Society and its Annual Scientific Meeting continues to offer a unique and highly motivating environment for a respected group of individuals in the field of vestibular science and clinical practice.
Written by ABS’ unofficial historian and vestibular history buff: Chris Zalewski