Medical conferences are a traditional part of physician training and continuing education. If you’re a physician, it is likely that you will participate in a specialty conference at least once in your career. These conferences have grown over the years, and, for larger specialty groups, they can be overwhelming. It is often said that physicians return from meetings more tired than before they left. Why do physicians attend, and should residents make these conferences a priority? With advances in telecommunication, social media and online journal access, is there still a benefit of physically attending a medical conference? The short answer is: yes.
We will use our recent experience at the 2018 American Urological Association (AUA) Annual Meeting to explain why we think that physically attending an academic conference should be a priority.
Beyond the Agenda
The agenda for the annual meeting is set and distributed to attendees well in advance. However, there is more to conferences than what is listed on the schedule. The ‘behind the scenes’ of a conference may be equally as important as the formal agenda. For example, the AUA is the paramount networking meeting for urologists. As residents, this means that fellowship and job interviews take place between podium and poster sessions. Evenings are filled with fundraising and alumni reunions. If you’re headed to a national conference in the future, it may beneficial to prioritize your networking goals alongside your academic aims. If networking isn’t your forte, consider attending structured events hosted by the conference. One that I found very useful was the Young Urologists Committee speed mentoring program at the AUA.
Greasing the Wheels
Attending a national meeting is a great way to infuse new ideas into your practice or research. If you have a specific interest or unanswered clinical question, listening to a pertinent lecture or abstract session may connect you with experts in the field. This can occur not only in the minutes following an interesting lecture, but also in impromptu meetings. While at the AUA, I saw several lecturers while walking between sessions and took the opportunity to introduce myself. Overall, I had the impression that attendees at all levels in their careers are open to these conversations. Before your next meeting consider this tip from the business world: “Identify about five people you’d most like to connect with and let luck meet preparation.”
Perhaps the best part of attending a conference is the inspiration gained from learning something unexpected. While at the AUA, I decided to attend a lecture by Dr. Atul Butte regarding genomics and computational health sciences. Not only was this one of the best lectures I’ve ever heard, it also helped me brainstorm new research ideas. In such a packed, high-yield conference, I found taking notes necessary, not only to keep track of the themes brought up by speakers but also for my own thoughts. Maximize your time during the conference by attending as many sessions as possible and use the down time on the flight back to review your notes!
Socialization over Social Media
Over the last few years, social media has emerged as a prominent method for physicians to share ideas and exchange opinions. Whether it’s with robotic surgery or the creation of biomarkers, urologists have traditionally been at the forefront of technology. As early adopters, the urology community has also embraced twitter. At the AUA, twitter serves as the main form of communication. By following along on your twitter feed, academic conferences are a great opportunity to learn how social media is used by urologists. It is also an opportunity for residents to interact with physicians you normally would not have had a chance to meet in person. While at the AUA, I used twitter to give updates on interesting presentations and to promote my research. Twitter is a powerful tool and will be used more and more — make sure not to miss the bandwagon on this one!
Familiarizing Yourself with the Business of Your Specialty
A big part of any academic conference is the exhibition center. This area is filled with representatives from every major and minor company in the field. Conference expos are important opportunities to familiarize yourself with products, evaluate emerging technology, and understand the costs involved for both you and your patients. During the conference there is unlimited access to people who know these products better than anyone else. If you plan on incorporating a medication or device in your practice, there is probably no better time to get acquainted with what the industry has to offer and compare these products side by side.
Taking Your Research to the Next Level
Residents who have abstracts accepted at the AUA are usually sponsored to attend by their respective departments. Conferences provide residents with a forum to discuss their research with some of the most knowledgeable physicians in the field. During poster and podium sessions, residents have the rare opportunity to meet and discuss their work with physicians from around the world. This is a great chance to get expert opinions on how to improve and advance current research. It is a good time to get a dipstick measure of the community’s interests, which can help guide the direction that you take your projects. Conferences also open the doors for collaboration. Podium and poster sessions are grouped based on clinical subject, therefore other physicians in the same session are often doing similar work. This creates a natural opportunity to bring two institutions with different resources together. This year at the AUA, I received incredibly productive feedback regarding my research and even met some physicians interested in future projects. Make sure to get the ear of everyone you can when it comes to your research at these conferences, you never know what you’ll get out of it!
The benefits of attending academic conferences as residents reach far beyond the podium or plenary sessions. Whether you are interviewing your next position, trying to educate yourself, or working to advance your research, conferences can help you achieve your goals.
Residents play crucial roles in conferences. They submit and present a large part of the research that fills the poster and podium sessions. It is important to view these conferences as one of the best times for residents to promote and improve themselves. The opportunities are endless! For this reason, every resident should make it a priority to attend at least one conference during their residency.
Giulia Ippolito Lane graduated from Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine (’13) and is a current Urology resident at the University of Minnesota (‘18). She is matriculating into a Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery fellowship in July 2018. She is also a 2018 Doximity Scholar. Follow her on twitter @GiuliaILane.
Justin Dubin is currently a PGY-2 Urology resident at UMiami, but grew up in Wayne, NJ. He attended Johns Hopkins University where he majored in Biology and later graduated from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He is also a 2018 Doximity Scholar. Justin is a huge film fan and cohost of the film podcast twoguysonemovie.com. Follow him on twitter @justindubin and on IG @justindubinmd