by Max Marbut
If you find yourself anywhere around the ballroom of the Hyatt this weekend, you might think you are at the United Nations. You may not understand much of anything people are discussing, even if you could speak the myriad of languages being spoken.
The annual meeting of the Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group (PTCOG) brought 600 physicians, medical physicists and engineers from the United States and 23 foreign countries to Jacksonville. They are here to learn about the latest advances in the latest technology to treat cancer. The conference is also an opportunity to promote the city’s medical tourism initiative.
“Last year, we met in China and they hosted a big gala for us,” said Stuart Klein, executive director of the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute, who added in addition to the technical side of the conference this year’s itinerary included a reception at the institute in Springfield, dinner at the Landing and dessert at the T-U Center followed by fireworks over the river.
Mayor John Peyton welcomed the delegates Thursday morning with a presentation about what Jacksonville offers the international medical community. From location to climate to education to facilities, Peyton said Jacksonville is quickly becoming a medical center.
“We’re playing to our strengths,” he said. “Jacksonville offers a great deal of opportunity for the health sciences field.”
After he left the podium, he added, “We couldn’t have gotten a better audience to showcase our city. This is a big success for medical tourism.”
Last November, Peyton introduced the medical tourism program and previewed a Web site that was being designed by the Dalton Agency in conjunction with a Visit Jacksonville promotional campaign. Both are intended to bring people to Jacksonville for treatment and companies to Jacksonville to do business. Last week, Belgium-based Ion Beam Applications confirmed plans to set up its American headquarters in Jacksonville. The firm is a leading provider of equipment for particle beam therapy facilities.
Add to that the 2008 PTCOG and it was quite a week for promoting Jacksonville as a medical destination.
“This is the largest international health care conference we have ever hosted. It’s great to be able to welcome these medical professionals from all over the world,” said Lyndsay Rossman, director of corporate communications for Visit Jacksonville.