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Dr. Kenneth Mattox speaks during the 2022 TCCACS conference at Caesars Palace Las Vegas—the only venue where he's hosted the event for more than half a century.

When Status Quo Is the Way to Go

The largest trauma postgraduate program in the country has used the same host property for 56 years. The event planner reveals why that works for the program—and for her—and which elements she changes up.

If it’s late March and you’re in Las Vegas, there’s no doubt you’ll find Mary Allen; Kenneth Mattox, MD; and a sea of trauma surgeons and anesthesiologists walking through Caesars Palace. Since 1966—the same year Caesars opened—the Trauma & Critical Care & Acute Surgery Conference has taken place there, with the lone exception of 2020, when the Covid pandemic forced a last-minute cancellation by event host Trauma & Critical Care Educational Foundation.

MM1122TraumaVegas6.jpgAllen, the group’s program coordinator for nearly 30 years, and Mattox, the program director for considerably longer than that, oversee the learning, networking, and social components for what was, in spring 2022, a crowd of nearly 900 attendees. Prior to Covid, the attendance figure was 1,300—the maximum number that can fit in the 50,000-square-foot ballroom that’s the focal point of the event every year. There’s also a trade-show area large enough to accommodate just 40 standard-sized booths (in photo), for which there is a waiting list of companies.

The need to persuade healthcare professionals to come to in-person events is more critical than ever. Allen says the big sticking point after the pandemic is mostly financial, in that medical institutions now hesitate to spend for practitioners’ off-site education. So, how can a conference remain in the same location year after year yet keep potential attendees interested enough to make the case to their bosses each year?

First, “the faculty we bring in is a huge component,” says Allen. “We try to change out 25 percent of the presenting faculty each year to keep things fresh. But once someone speaks at our meeting, they are often invited to many other programs around the country, so it is a desirable thing.”

Another enticement to keep top-notch faculty coming is the way they are treated at the conference. They not only get a lot of quality time with each other and Mattox—a pioneer in the field of trauma surgery—but they also attend a ritzy reception held just for them in Caesars Palace’s penthouse, hosted by Mattox.

High Expectations for Presenters
In return, the demands on the expert presenters and panelists during the three-day meeting are substantial. “We start the education at seven in the morning and we go until seven in the evening,” Allen says. “We do a series of 15-minute talks, followed by case-management sessions that are really popular because we have a lot of rural surgeons who must handle any situation that comes through their door. Then there is a ‘great debate’ between faculty that’s focused on a trauma-related topic, and that is really energetic.” The day ends with a series of eight-minute “capsule commentaries,” which has been copied by many other organizations because of the consistently high marks attendees give to the format.

“These are succinct lectures on the current status of what is an evolving issue or approach. There is no panel discussion at the end,” Allen notes. “Dr. Mattox came up with the ‘rapid-fire’ idea several years ago and presented it to the program committee. His rationale was to create a needed break in the interesting but long days featuring consecutive 15-minute talks and panels. Some on the program committee were skeptical that eight minutes was enough time to adequately cover a topic. But the format proved to be a big hit.”

All event sessions take place on the ballroom stage, aside from 90-minute lunch-and-learn programs held midday by sponsoring firms in adjacent breakout spaces.

Attendees Appreciate Familiarity
On the participant side, going to the same location every year is acceptable not only because of the quality of faculty but also because they don’t have to think about logistics and travel for more than a few minutes in the weeks before the conference. “Knowing the layout of the host property, that there are a lot of direct flights, and that the airport is a short drive from host property makes a huge impression on our people,” Allen says.

MM1122traumavegas2.pngAs a result, attendees can focus on just a couple of things: the educational topics, conversations with their colleagues, and the variety of restaurant and entertainment offerings available to them in the evenings. “In a destination this big, I know that I don’t have to change much internally; the city changes enough each year that the new experiences really help us excite our audience,” says Allen (in photo). “Our attendee evaluations show that our people love our structure and format. When we ask what they would like to see changed, nearly all of them say ‘nothing.’”

Lastly, staying in the same location every year makes Allen’s job much easier from both a logistical and a financial standpoint. “When Dr. Mattox and I took over the foundation in the mid-1990s, we sat with the president of Caesars himself and agreed to the contract terms for future years with a handshake,” Allen says. “I have become very close with so many people on property, so they understand exactly how I operate, what I need with food and beverage, audiovisual, and other elements, and the cost range I have to stay within for each one.”

A virtual version of the conference started during Covid and is generating good revenue from on-demand viewing of the recorded in-person sessions, Allen says. The virtual fee is about 40 percent of the in-person fee, and the foundation will continue offering it. “It expands our presence among people who would never be able to attend in person,” she notes. “After Covid, I feel like we are obligated to give these very dedicated practitioners this educational opportunity even if their institutions won’t pay for them to come on site.”

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