5 Ways to Maximize Your Next Professional Development Opportunity
April 16, 2019
Have you ever come home from a conference feeling deflated and overwhelmed, instead of invigorated and inspired? If so, you're not alone. Greetings from 30,000 feet in the air! Thanks to the power of technology, I'm actually writing this blog on my plane ride back from the Program Director Workshop and Residency Program Solutions conference in Kansas City, Missouri. As I scrolled through my phone, it was clear that I had an amazing time learning from and connecting with my colleagues. However, it wasn't always like that. I used to come home from conferences feeling deflated and overwhelmed rather than invigorated and inspired. So how did that all change? Here are my "Top 5 Ways to Maximize Your Next Professional Development Opportunity."
Do research and plan ahead. What is the conference about? Who are speakers and what are their topics? Where is the conference being held and how are you getting there? What's the dress code? This can really help you plan your day, maximize your time and ensure that you attend the sessions and presentations that are meaningful to you. And since we can't prepare for everything, pack a little survival kit that includes items like a notebook, pen, water, snacks, mints, phone charger, business cards and a sweater—you never know if the venue will be hot or cold, so it's best to dress in layers.
2. Meet People
At major conferences it will be impossible to attend every session, but make it a point to attend all the plenary sessions. This is where the thought leaders gather, and you want to be part of this mix. Try to sit near the front and close to the stage so you'll have the opportunity to mingle and maybe even catch a few minutes with plenary speaker. An easy way to start a conversation is to ask the speaker something specific about the topic they just presented or ask a question about something you learned when you researched about them. Bonus tip: Sit next to someone you don't know and say hello. Trust me, they are also looking to bond and share experiences.
All local, state, regional and national organizations are looking for help. Push yourself, reach out and engage. You're already going to be there anyway, so why not serve on a committee? Committee work usually means sending a few emails, reading documents, attending conference calls and answering questions—all very easy to do, and it will help you build your network.
4. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
It's easy to get excited about something you're passionate about, but why not expand your horizons and attend a session about something you're not that familiar with. It may open new opportunities and connections. If the conference has exhibit halls, wander in, visit a few booths and engage in conversation. The exhibitors are waiting to speak with you about their research, services, products and much more. Bonus tip: There are usually snacks and coffee available all day in the exhibit halls.
Conferences aren't just about making it to every session! Networking and connecting with colleagues and friends, both new and old, is just as valuable. Go have coffee or share a meal with other conference-goers. It's okay to venture outside the conference center as well. Make it a point to enjoy an experience specific to the area you are visiting. The best part of going to conferences is the accumulation of experiences!
Give these tips a try at your next conference and let me know how it goes.
Leon McCrea, MD, with Bill Warning, MD (PD Crozer), Sarah Morchen, MD (APD Crozer), Amy Crawford-Faucher (PD - Forbes in Pittsburgh, and alum of MCP)
Leon McCrea, MD, MPH
Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Program Director, Family Medicine Residency
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