Make the Most of Your Meetings

How to take advantage of the events on your calendar this year.make the most of meeting

Medical meetings can be overwhelming, whether it's your first RSNA or your 12th subspecialty conference. There's so much to see and so many people to meet, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to prioritize.

A few strategies and some pre-meeting prep can go a long way in helping you take advantage of your time at these valuable events.

Organize your time. Jacqueline A. Bello, MD, FACR, director of neuroradiology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a veteran of 28 RSNAs, suggests deciding your goals for the meeting before you even walk in the doors. The challenges associated with this evolve as your career matures. "If you're in training or just out of training, the challenge is how to organize your learning experience," she says. "Once you're in practice, it's how to use the conference to fill in your practice gaps. For example, if I'm least comfortable reading head and neck, I should find ways to focus on that topic. If you hold a leadership position, the challenge becomes how to work around the society and committee meetings that inevitably get scheduled when so many radiologists are together in one place."

Sounds easy enough, right? "It's a real juggling act," Bello acknowledges. Her solution is to make some decisions beforehand about what she hopes to accomplish by the end of the conference. Defining her goals allows her to plan accordingly.

Choose a learning focus. If it's CME he's after, Timothy L. Swan, MD, FACR, diagnostic radiologist at Marshfield Clinic, chooses an area of focus for each meeting. "I tend to learn best if I concentrate my learning on one area at a time, rather than going to, for example, a breast seminar, then a chest session, and an MSK course all in one meeting," he says. "I don't learn well that way, when I bounce from one topic to another." If this approach fits with your learning style, consider diving into a single topic at your next meeting.

Have a strategy for approaching vendors. Medical meetings can bring together almost as many vendors as attendees. "There's no better place to go shopping for equipment, educational materials, and supplies," says Bello. With the sheer volume of vendors, especially at RSNA, Bello cautions, "You have to be a little bit selfish about your time." She likes to enter the showroom floor with a list of exactly what she's looking for. "It's sort of like going into a department store looking for shoes," she says. "You don't spend 20 minutes going through scarves on your way in." If there's time after she's ticked everything off her list, that's when she goes browsing.

A few strategies and some pre-meeting prep can go a long way in helping you take advantage of your time at these valuable events.

Meanwhile, Swan approaches the vendor area without a set agenda. "I walk around and think about how interesting products might be used in our practice," he says. "I generally don't go with a specific product in mind. It's just about seeing what's available and looking to the future." He's learned about some interesting new product this way, a few of which have found their way into his practice.

Streamline your tools. There's no shortage of handy apps for tasks like annotating PDFs, taking notes, and organizing photos. But when it comes to apps, more is not always better. "I hate having a whole bunch of apps with little tiny pieces of information in each one," says Swan. He suggests Evernote as a catch-all app that stores notes, photos, and PDFs in one location. For annotating PDFs, consider Skitch, a related app that allows you to save marked-up PDFs in Evernote.

Prioritize networking. A conference can be a great way of establishing new connections and reaffirming relationships with colleagues you don't see often. Swan suggests embracing the unplanned nature of making new connections. "It's more happenstance than it is purposeful," he says. By entering the conference with "an attitude of friendliness," he hopes to encourage those unplanned interactions, wherever they may occur. When possible, he builds good networking karma by introducing colleagues to others who share their interests.

One of the hints Bello gives residents is not to underestimate the value of simply asking people about their work. She suggests focusing on the poster areas. "Very often, the author of a certain work will be standing by their poster at designated times. That's a great chance to exchange ideas," she says. "If not, you can always drop the author a message, even if it's just to say, 'I have a similar interest. I'd love to meet with you sometime during the meeting if you're available.'"

The same applies outside of the poster area. "Don't be shy about approaching presenters," says Bello. "Presenters love it when people show an interest in their work. And if you're too shy to ask a question in public, see them afterwards or drop them an email."

By Lyndsee Cordes

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