Sheryl Vermont, CMP, Physician Assistant Education Association
Physician Assistant Education Association
Sheryl Vermont, CMP, has seen more than her fair share of glowing conference evaluations in the four and a half years she’s been with the Physician Assistant Education Association. Attendance at the PAEA Educational Forum is up from just under 500 at her first conference to 835 last year.
However, while attendees have been running their pencils down the row of “5”s on the evals, “We don’t get any good meat on what success really means,” she says. “Our numbers are good, attendance is up, but is that enough?” That’s the question that led Vermont and a colleague to form a task force and work with a consultant to help define what success will mean moving forward, and discover new ways to get there.
We hired a consultant to go through all our data on registrants and exhibitors to find out who they are and what their loyalty levels are, and we assembled a task force of five colleagues to explore whether the path we’ve been on for the past 10 years is the right one moving forward.
On the surface it all looked good. For the educational content, we were accepting less than 50 percent of the session proposals we received, so we were being selective, but the question remained: How do we know that a good proposal actually resulted in a good educational experience? We didn’t have a good answer for that.
So this year, we asked half of the volunteers who initially go through the responses to our calls for proposals to come back and take a deeper look at those proposals to make sure we weren’t missing any great ideas that were just not presented in a way that would get them a good score. It was such an awesome meeting—they were so into it, so engaged. They said it was the best thing they’d done in five years on the council.
Physician assistants tend to be team-based, so networking is important. So this year we’re going to include an “activity afternoon,” where attendees can get to know each other outside the classroom environment. By going on a hike together, attendees might find they have more in common than they thought. We’re also putting topic tables outside the classrooms so they can more easily find others who are interested in using a flipped classroom method, for example. We’re also giving them 30 minutes between sessions, rather than the 10 we had been giving them, so they can have those conversations.
I’d love to add some health options, like a 5K walk/run, and maybe a corporate social responsibility option. We’re also adding polling for the first time to our mobile app and encouraging our general session speakers to use them to help make their sessions more engaging.
We also will have “moles” at the conference who will look at the changes we’re making through their “attendee eyes” and let us know if we hit the mark.
Remember, just because we’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s right—it may just be the only way we know. Be open to new ideas. Also, try not to bite off more than you can chew. We don’t want to be doing anything halfway—we want to be sure we’re hitting our marks.
Best Business Advice
Listen first. Consider all ideas before jumping in and saying what you want or how you think it could work. Others may bring up points you hadn’t thought of. Also, at the end of every meeting, if you have action items, assign someone to each to make sure it gets done. Even the best idea will go nowhere if no one is in charge of it.
I have four very athletic kids in middle and high school. When I have time off, I’m watching them have fun at the ice rink and the lacrosse field.
Previous: Changemaker Caryn Taylor Lucia