Here are a few thoughts that struck me during my time at the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions annual meeting at the Gaylord National Harbor Jan. 13–16:
1. OK, we all know that a good keynote speaker is a wonderful thing, but Roberta Ness, PhD, MPH, sparked some of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had at a conference with her session the first morning on innovation and creativity. Ness, who authored Innovation Generation, a book that outlines a systemic method for becoming more innovative—and created a massive open online course on edX teaching the method that I and a bunch of others here have already signed up for—wasn’t the most entertaining or dynamic speaker I’ve had the pleasure to experience. But her content resonated with us big time, and has us, or at least a lot of people I spoke with at the conference, buzzing about how we can use what we learned to tackle some of the very thorny challenges involved in continuing education for health professionals today. She was the right speaker for this group at this point in time, and set exactly the right tone for a conference with the theme, “Discovering Connections.”
She was followed on day two by Eric Rasmussen, MD, MDM, FACP, who brought the focus more tightly to how the interconnectedness of the world today and the "wicked problems" we face—drought, natural disasters, industrial accidents—call for new methods and tools for disaster epidemiology. And the last day's closing keynoter, Barbara Brandt, PhD, "connected the dots" by showing how to reconnect teams with interprofessional education.
It's been a very cool progression from general and thought-provoking to more specific, industry-driven implementation, and the sessions each day also were contoured to stimulate discussions that connect what we learned to the broader themes addressed by the keynoters. I know a lot of conference organizers strive to make this happen, and this has been an excellent example of those connections being made really, really well.
2. This happens every year at this conference, but I wish that once, just once, we could get more than an hour into the program without one of the presenters saying, “Don’t do what I’m doing, lecturing from a stage. Do this instead.” And then go on to outline what sounds like really engaging formats that work for learning. Happened in three sessions I went to on the first day. Yes, this association of professional adult education specialists has come a long way in trying to practice what they preach—every year, there's a little more interactivity—but it’s not enough to have replaced classroom style with roundtables if all the chairs still face the stage and the information flow remains strictly one-way.
3. That said, anyone who thinks lectures can't work has never experienced one given by Dave Davis, MD, senior director, continuing education and improvement, Association of American Medical Colleges. His session, which explored the question "Is CME a profession?", was a fantastic mixture of pair-share interaction, graphics, and his own inimitable style that mixes humor with seriousness and empathy. He got a well-deserved standing ovation, and I got a whole lot to think about.
4. In one session I went to we did break up into small groups to work on case studies, but the case study my table was dealt was nearly impossible to do anything interesting with using the tools we had just been given. We finished in about five minutes, leaving us another 10 minutes to watch other tables talking excitedly and brainstorming solutions. I even asked the session leader if we could have another case to work on, but she said to wait and we could hear what the others came up with during the report-out part. It was actually kind of painful.
5. Another session evolved from a fairly brief lecture into a fascinating conversation with a lot of back-and-forth between audience members and the session leader, exploring a lot of areas that hadn’t been talked about in the lecture portion. A lot of solution-sharing happened, and it was amazing.
6. This association has always held an invitation-only president’s reception, but this year they broke it open and invited everyone to mingle with the organization’s leaders, past and present, over drinks and appetizers. I thought it was a pretty effective way to show that accessibility is a priority.
7. OK, so I thought about going to said president’s reception, but instead decided to face up to the formidable mountain of work waiting for me. As I mentioned this to my significant other on the phone in the elevator on the way up to my room (I know, annoying, but we had been having a hard time connecting), and another guy in the elevator gave me a smile, then a sigh. And I thought, what am I here for? Education and “networking” (for lack of a better word). How ridiculous is it to fly away from our homes and pay a fairly steep registration fee, hotel, and F&B to be here, then spend that precious networking time alone in our hotel rooms doing what we could more effectively do at our desks at home? This is a growing problem for a lot of conference participants in these days of non-stop connectivity, growing workloads, and need-it-now work demands.
8. Why do I always look heavier in hotel guest room mirrors than I do at home? Is it just because there are so many more of them, or is there some evil genius who engineers them to make us look like we've put on 10 pounds? Or (gasp!), could it be the scrumptious chocolate tart I had at lunch coming home to roost in the form of instant muffin top?
Anyway, kudos to Jacob Coverstone, who chaired this year's annual conference committee, for ensuring that this year's content was outstanding, flowed well, and built on what came before as the conference went on, and caused a lot of us to really work, session by session, on how we can, in Ness's term, "reframe" our challenges to connect with new, and better, ways to meet them.