Getting The Most From Medical Conferences

By Michelle Mudge-Riley DO, MHA

Making The Most Of Your Time & Money

Last week I attended the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) Annual Conference, “Learning from the Best” at the Gaylord National Resort in Washington, D.C.   This was my first AMGA conference and the first conference I’ve been able to attend for several years. 

There hasn’t been time for a conference in awhile but suddenly, this year I’m attending three of them. I’ll be a mentor or a speaker at the other two conferences I’m planning to attend this fall. These are the SEAK Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians Conference and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Conference where I’ll speak about physician career strategies and avoiding/healing physician burnout.

Conferences are a great way to build your network and see what companies are doing and what opportunities may exist for you.  They are also a good way to find out more about an industry you want to break into and gain experience in. For this reason, when working with physicians to help them find opportunities to enhance their revenue or find non-clinical opportunities, I often recommend attending a conference.

Here are two recent examples of successful outcomes that resulted from attending a conference:

1. Allscripts is a company many doctors ask me about and getting hired by this company has eluded many very well qualified doctors. I believe personal connections can help physicians get directly in front of decision makers. At the AMGA conference, I visited the Allscripts booth where I introduced myself and asked about physician opportunities. That led to an introduction to another physician, a D.O. (like myself) who works with the company and actually designed a technology that is used at the company. He knows of multiple opportunities available for physicians and wants me to follow up with him so we can find a good fit (or two). 

2. A surgeon who’s been working with me attended the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference on my recommendation. He took time out of his clinical practice and traveled without his family to a strange city where he spent several days in a hotel as he attended the conference. That’s a pretty big investment.  I got a call from him two weeks after he got back. He wanted advice pursuing three very promising leads in consulting and IT work. He’d even created an opportunity in his own community for this work, based on some of the things he saw and learned about at the HIMSS conference.

Attending a conference can be expensive after you pay the conference fee, travel to the geographic location (often far away from you), stay in a hotel and eat while you are there. That means attending a conference requires a plan so you can get the most out of the time and money you spend. Here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful for the physicians I work with to help them make the most out of a conference.

1. Remember it’s going to appear overwhelming.  There will be lots of people you’ve never seen all gathered in one place. It might seem like everyone knows everyone else but in reality, most people don’t know more than two or three other people at the conference. Many are there alone. Introduce yourself to someone. You will be pleasantly surprised that it’s not as hard as it seems to strike up a conversation with a stranger. After all, you already share one thing in common – you’re at the same conference. 

2. Bring business cards – but collect more.  You may have already thought about your own business cards but remember, most people misplace one or two (or more) of the cards they get.  You don’t want to be waiting for the call or e-mail that never comes from someone you really hit it off with and hope to work with in the future.  Be sure to collect the cards and write notes to yourself on the back of each one, reminding you why you enjoyed talking to that individual and what you hope to gain when you follow up.

3. Follow up within a week of the conference.  Going to a conference and networking are useless without follow-up. You may have had the best conversation in the world with someone but without further conversations, you aren’t going to actually move that opportunity forward and work with someone. On this same note, don’t worry if you don’t feel like you made the best impression on someone you met.  The real connection will come with the follow-up. But the follow-up is up to you.

4. Spend some time in the vendor area. It’s a good idea to consider spending at least a quarter of your time here. This is where you will discover companies you didn’t know existed that might be interested in hiring a physician either directly or as a consultant. Ask about this and get contact names/information for people within the company. This will help you avoid the “HR trap” of cold calling a company.

5. Approach the speakers and get their contact information. These are experts in their field and if they are speaking at a conference, they are probably interested in helping someone in the area they know about and understand.  Not only will they be good individuals to ask questions about the industry, they are likely well connected and may be able to provide an introduction or two for you to others in the field.

Good luck! Feel free to comment on what’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for you when you’ve attended a conference.

About: Dr. Michelle Mudge-Riley blogs at Freelance MD.