HealthJanuary 30, 2020

How to maximize the benefits of attending medical conferences

By: Brian Wu, MD, PhD
Medical conferences can be an exciting and productive part of your medical career—if you approach them the right way. Here’s a look at how to reap the benefits of attending medical conferences, from using them as a way to gain insight into your specialty area to networking with your peers.

Choose conferences wisely

Since conferences will cost you both time and money, be sure to choose the ones that best suit your needs. First, consider what you hope to get out of a particular conference. Maybe you want to keep up with new developments in your field or learn more about innovative research or medical techniques. Or perhaps you want to network with colleagues or connect with vendors. Whatever your interest, setting goals will help you decide which conference to attend and can help you manage your time once you get there.

And don’t forget: You may decide some conferences are best attended in person, while others are better accessed through digitally captured recordings, which allow you to engage with the content presented without being there in person.

Once you’ve settled on a goal, do a little research to find the conferences that are right for you. Review conference programs carefully, reading about the speakers and looking for sessions that align with your goals. See if there are exhibits that interest you or events you would like to participate in. And ask other students, mentors or practitioners for their advice and feedback on conferences they’ve attended.

Get the most out of sessions

The number of sessions to choose from at a conference can be overwhelming. Don’t overextend yourself; trying to cram too many sessions in can be counterproductive—you’ll wear yourself out and defeat the purpose of attending. Instead, attend the sessions that matter most to you.

To get the most out of a talk or panel, there’s no substitute for taking thoughtful notes. These notes can help you remember particular points of interest or people you have met. Carry a notebook or a portable device such as a tablet or laptop for note taking, and use a method that will be easy for you to make sense of later. Don’t try to write down every detail: You’ll find it easier to summarize the main points during breaks or after the presentation is over. In some cases, it may make sense to buy the recorded sessions if you hope to refer back to sessions at a later date.

Take advantage of networking opportunities

Be sure to bring plenty of business cards with you, as one of the greatest benefits of attending medical conferences is connecting with others in your field. You’ll have the opportunity to get to know and learn from others who have a similar professional interest. Try to meet at least a few new health care professionals, and take advantage of any social events during the conference. Follow up with your new contacts soon after the conference by telephone, email or social media.

According to Science Magazine, Twitter has become an essential means of communication for conference attendees. If your conference has a hashtag (most major ones do), follow it to find out who else is in attendance and to learn about sessions that might interest you. Live-tweeting the conference is a way to connect with other attendees and to discuss what you’ve learned in the sessions. It also allows you to share information with colleagues who are unable to attend. If you have a schedule conflict, you can use Twitter to follow a session in another room.

Another great place to connect with your peers is the conference’s exhibit hall, where you’ll find fellow attendees mingling and visiting exhibitors’ booths to learn about new technologies, medications and other offerings. Keep in mind that networking can take many shapes. Using the opportunity to meet vendors and interact with (and ask questions about) their products could prove to be your most valuable takeaway from the entire conference.

Gain professional visibility

Stepping up your conference participation by giving a presentation is an excellent way to gain visibility in your field. But remember that as a speaker, you’re also an educator whose foremost goal is to inform your audience of the latest advances in technology, new procedures, policies or diseases. Knowledge of your topic is essential, but you must also engage your audience. Speak naturally so that the information is accessible to your listeners, and consider enhancing your presentation with graphs, images and videos.

Also, keep in mind that one of the most important parts of your presentation actually takes place when it’s over. Build your professional connections and further establish your expertise by allowing plenty of time for a question-and-answer session. This does not have to take place entirely in a traditional format; you can also use social media. This allows people who might otherwise be reluctant to speak out to participate. Encourage your audience to follow you and engage people who might be watching on livestream.

Take time to reflect after the conference

Attending a conference can be a whirlwind, and when you get home you might be eager to catch up on work and return to your routine. Before you do that, though, take time to review your notes and reflect on what you’ve learned.

  • Whom do you hope to follow up with?
  • Which sessions were most informative?
  • What are your key takeaways?
  • What lessons can you put into practice in your work?
  • What insights would your colleagues find valuable?
  • What newly discovered products do you want to acquire or research more?
  • Was attending in person the best use of your time and resources?

You’ve truly maximized the benefits of attending a medical conference when you’ve not only gained insight yourself, but you can also share that insight with others and put it into practice.

Brian Wu, MD, PhD