Getting the Most Out of Your Next Professional Meeting

By Joanna Drowos DO, MPH, MBA and Mandi Sehgal MD

Recently a large group of faculty from the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, including physicians from various specialties and other health professions educators, attended the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) Conference on Medical Student Education, in Jacksonville, Florida. For us as family physicians, being able to engage our colleagues, both inside and outside of our specialty, was a great way to showcase STFM, develop new collaborations, and advance in our careers.

Being at this meeting together, away from our home institution, provided opportunities to increase rapport and morale amongst our group. Given that so many of us attended and presented our work, our college took notice and pride.

We present here lessons learned and our suggestions on how to take advantage of the opportunity to attend, present, and/or network at professional meetings. We will use our experience at STFM as an example.

In advance of the meeting:

  • Consider meeting logistics, dates, times, or locations that may work best with your schedule and allowed travel funds. Our group selected this particular meeting due to proximity to our institution, knowing we could drive rather than fly to minimize costs.
  • Secure support from your department or institution to subsidize or cover the cost of attendance. In some cases, this may require presenting at the meeting. Our institution has an Academic Enrichment Fund in addition to CME dollars, available to faculty for such purposes.
  • Familiarize yourself with submission types and deadlines. Depending on the conference, deadlines for abstract submissions may be 6 months or more in advance of the conference.
  • Consider leveraging the expertise of your colleagues—both physicians and other health professions educators—inside and outside of your specialty, to engage in collaborative submissions. Our group presented a preconference, which included both a general internist, pediatrician, and PhD researcher as organizers.
  • Network within STFM CONNECT, your home, and any neighboring institutions for potential partnerships to present at meetings or collaborate with on areas of mutual academic interest.
  • A few weeks before the conference, review the meeting program and agenda to prioritize sessions you wish to attend. If attending with a group, consider having each colleague attend different sessions and report back to maximize the learning.
  • Access the meeting app to review the list of meeting participants. Identify those you would like to connect with while at the meeting. Consider reaching out in advance to make a formal plan to link up.

While at the meeting:

  • Present your content with enthusiasm and focus. Arrive a few minutes early and stay a few minutes late in order to meet others interested in your work. This is another great way to find potential collaborators.
  • Network formally and informally by attending receptions and group dining meal opportunities. STFM, for example, generally organizes several dine-arounds, during which people meet-up to go out to a specific restaurant with one another.
  • Utilize social media to highlight lessons learned at the conference.
  • Have fun! Take time to enjoy the experience and explore the host city with colleagues.

After the meeting:

  • Update your CV with your presentations and report CME.
  • Share your participation with your home institution (department chair, dean, curriculum dean) and thank them for their support.
  • Follow up via email or phone on any connections made at the meeting for future collaboration.
  • Think about how to further the scholarly activity of any of the work that you presented. For example, consider whether your poster or presentation is ready to be turned into a paper. If not, outline the next steps needed to complete your project.
  • Start planning for next year!

We hope that our perspective is useful as you plan for getting the most out of participation at your next professional meeting.

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