Medical symposia, industry conferences, and professional development workshops are great opportunities to network with peers, hear innovative ideas, and recharge professional passions. They also can be cognitively overwhelming. Sure, you’ll leave inspired to make improvements in your practice. But it can be difficult to hold on to those aspirations once you get back to the daily grind.
We asked physician practice “conference junkies” how they make the most of their time at conferences, including tips on how to keep those best practices top of mind and even put them into action.
Before the conference
Long before you board the plane, decide what you and your practice teams hope to learn from the specific event, suggests Owen Dahl, a practice management consultant in The Woodlands, Texas, and a frequent speaker at physician practice management conferences. “Planning needs to start before the conference, both on what the big organizational needs are and the goals of the individual,” he says. “Go with the expectation of identifying two or three major things that can be brought back.”
For first-time conference attendees, the conference experience can induce information overload, says KrisEmily McCrory, MD, FAAFP, a family medicine practitioner in Schenectady, N.Y. “Look at the schedule, and plan your days ahead of time,” she urges. You can’t possibly attend everything, so identify the sessions that relate specifically to your practice interests or may offer ideas on how to improve your processes.”
Study the conference agenda and identify a backup session in case your primary intended session is overbooked, canceled, or doesn’t offer the information you expected. But don’t feel pressured to marathon from one session to the next. In most cases, it’s counterproductive to attend too many sessions in a day. "You can end up with a fair degree of cognitive overload and, paradoxically, retain very little,” advises Saroj Misra, DO, FACOFP, chief of family medicine at St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren, Mich., and a veteran of the conference circuit.
During the conference
It’s your conference dollar, so maximize your attendance by focusing on your educational goals and taking the opportunity to ask speakers questions, McCrory says. “For each session you attend, write down one or two action items you can take home. Try not to change your entire practice based on a single session, but use the pearls to make smaller, more manageable changes. See if the presenters are willing to share contact information—often they will be available to answer questions via email after you have had time to digest the material.”
Is a session’s content not what you’d hoped it would be? It’s not a sin to get up and switch to another session, so maximize your time by moving on to your Plan B session.