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How to Maximize your Virtual Medical Conference Experience

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required the field of medicine to adapt in many ways, including a virtual shift for our medical education. Weariness of these virtual platforms and a longing for the nostalgic in-person meeting might discourage some from registering for a virtual one. Though Zoom fatigue is real, pause to consider the options before pressing the snooze button on your learning. Virtual meetings offer many new advantages, and with a few tips you can successfully surf the wave of the future. 

Virtual meetings have three advantages over in-person meetings. First of all, they are more convenient. Travel is easy – from your bed to your desk. You need not cancel extra work days for transit, nor quarantine. International conferences are possible despite travel restrictions. If you have work or family obligations that prevent a prolonged absence, you can pop in and out of sessions as needed. Second, comfort is at a maximum. While you may wish to look professional from the waist up, cozy up in comfortable bottoms and house slippers. Remember hunting lunch at your last conference? No more soggy pre-packaged sandwiches or $10 salads. You have unlimited access to your kitchen and coffee pot. Third, virtual meetings are cheaper. Travel costs, including airfare and transit, hotels, and restaurant meals, evaporate. The bottom line matters: most physicians are working harder than ever during the pandemic for less pay.

Make sure your technology allows you to focus on learning. Consider a docking station with a larger screen, or even a second screen, to maximize screen space. Try working in a split screen by docking two windows: left click and drag each window all the way to the right or left edge of your screen and lift your finger. Consider investing in high quality headphones or a headset, and don’t forget to test your microphone and speakers before the meeting starts.

Start your meeting off right with some early prep work. Promote networking by building your online profile in the platform with a photo, virtual roles/badges, and meeting interests. Everyone at our meeting cheers new attendees wearing the badge “my first annual meeting.” Check out which of your colleagues are in attendance and send invites to meet. Virtual meetings can be easier to achieve than in-person since you are only the click of a button away. Review your meeting and build your agenda. While virtual sessions typically have more space than in-person, some may fill to capacity. 

Don’t be surprised if you prefer the educational experience of an online meeting! You can maximize your learning in this setting. View sessions synchronously and participate in live Q&A or watch them afterwards. In the past, if two simultaneous sessions interested you, your options were to race back and forth between the meeting rooms or miss one entirely. While a virtual session may fill, ultimately there is more space than a physical room, and everyone has a front row seat. Slides can be easily uploaded to a virtual platform with the option to zoom in; no more squinting from the back of the room.

Take advantage of the non-lecture content of your meeting. Formats like poster halls can be high-yield with recorded presentations and live chat for questions. It is faster to flip through posters virtually than walking around. Utilize your virtual platform’s search function to locate specific meeting content. Exhibitor halls may not have coffee and cookies, but you can still network with a medical liaison to answer questions and learn about access to medications, medical devices, and professional organizations that can boost your practice. Make sure to visit your exhibitors because their monetary support makes the meeting possible: registration fees cover only a small portion of the meeting costs. There are ways to make a large meeting feel smaller: breakout sessions like study groups and community hubs are places where you can meet and network with others with similar interests. 

Lastly, make sure to prioritize self care. Your health and learning experience will be better if you swap a hotel bed and large late night meals for your own bed, sleep schedule, and home-cooked food. Take regular breaks to avoid eye strain from the computer screen. Go for a walk or have a cup of tea with a friend or family member. Virtual meetings provide much more flexibility, enjoy!

Conferences are a great way to stay up to date on the medical literature and learn from the experts. The virtual leap this pandemic has required is an opportunity to explore new ways to learn and interact. Medical conferences have followed similar formulas for years, and it is an exciting time of innovation in medicine. Hang your “meeting in progress” sign on the door and dive in!

What tips do you have for attending a virtual conference? Leave your experiences in the comments.

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