Author + information
- aDuke Clinical Research Institute, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
- bMazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
- ↵∗Reprint requests and correspondence:
Dr. Abhinav Sharma, Duke Clinical Research Institute, 2400 Pratt Street, Durham, North Carolina.
Throughout medical school, residency, and fellowship, most trainees will attend several conferences. These can vary in size, scope, and specialty and can be local, national, or international. Although some trainees attending conferences may be presenting a poster or oral abstract, commonly a trainee’s interaction with a congress tends to be fairly passive. A significant amount of time at a congress is spent sitting in darkened rooms and listening to lectures without necessarily interacting with the presenter or members of the panel. Attempts to engage with some of the world’s experts who are presenting at these congresses can be limited, because these individuals have busy schedules and many other people at the conference are often attempting to speak with them. Standing in front of an audience during a question-and-answer period can be daunting and, importantly, does not allow for a meaningful individual discussion. Although attending these sessions is important to keep abreast of the latest clinical and research findings, a conference can also be leveraged to significantly maximize academic output. As trainees, time can be limited because of other research and clinical commitments. In this paper, we describe specific strategies to effectively utilize the time spent at congresses to maximize academic output and career advancement endeavors (Table 1). We highlight examples from a variety of congresses to illustrate some of these strategies.
Young Investigator/Trainee Awards
Even before attending a congress or submitting an abstract, trainees should look for opportunities to apply for young investigator or trainee awards. These awards can frequently be applied to automatically when submitting an abstract, but oftentimes they require a separate application. Such awards can often partly or completely supplement travel, hotel, or registration fees. In addition, some of these awards offer the chance to present in front of experts in the field or even to partake in a larger competition. For example, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) has Young Investigator awards that can cover a significant part of travel and hotel expenses. Table 2 summarizes some of the national and international young investigator awards in cardiology to which trainees can apply.
Congresses offer a unique opportunity to meet with a large number of fellowship directors from across the country at 1 location. For some of the larger national congresses, such as the ACC Scientific Sessions or the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, there is a good chance that many fellowship and subspecialty fellowship program directors will be in attendance. If not, other members of a program’s admission committee will likely be present. Trainees early in their fellowship program can reach out to program directors to set up a meeting to learn more about a particular program and to set the stage for future applications. If presenting at a congress, the trainee can show his or her poster or invite the program director to attend an oral presentation. Personal experience has shown that program directors are very receptive to such meetings. We recommend sending an e-mail several months before the congress to the program director (and/or members of the program admission’s committee) to inquire whether a meeting would be possible. A follow-up e-mail closer to the congress is also recommended to remind the program director of the meeting.
Attend Trainee-Specific Events and Meet Colleagues Socially
Often, congresses will host specific trainee-focused events. At the 2016 ACC Scientific Sessions, there were a number of fellow- and trainee-directed symposia. As an example, there was a fellows-in-training scholarship and education session where cardiovascular experts discussed a range of topics such as how to find a mentor, how to get a grant funded, and the publication process behind the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
It is important to also realize that conferences are an excellent opportunity to connect with former and current classmates, residents, and fellows in a more social manner. Such interactions are important, as these individuals will form a network of connections for future research and jobs. Many congresses, such as the ACC Annual Scientific Sessions, are held in cities that are very conducive to meeting socially after the day.
Pre-Plan a Conference Schedule
Most large conferences have mobile applications that can help you navigate the schedule and pick out sessions and events of interest. We would recommend that trainees spend the day prior to the conference setting out a rough timetable of lectures or symposia of interest. Often, with large conferences like the ACC Scientific Sessions, there are so many interesting talks occurring at the same time that trying to decide on the day of the congress can be overwhelming. Furthermore, from a logistic point of view, with larger conferences there can be a substantial distance between various lecture halls. Establishing a schedule beforehand will aid in significantly maximizing the time spent at the conference.
Participate in Conference Writing Groups
Various conferences will have writing groups that enable fellows to take the lead to summarize and publish a review on a topic presented at the congress. Often the trainee will be linked with the person who presented on that topic, and can collaborate in writing a review. As an example, the Cardiovascular Clinical Trialist Forum in Washington, DC (1), allows interested fellows to join the writing group, and on the basis of interest, the fellow will be paired up with a presenter of a particular topic. Along with other participants, most of whom are world authorities in various fields of cardiology, the fellow can write a review or viewpoint that summarizes existing knowledge, new advances, or controversies. These are subsequently submitted for peer-reviewed publication. To date, a number of fellow-initiated publications have developed from this congress (1–4).
Join Congress Working Groups
Various national cardiovascular organizations will have working groups that fellows can get involved in. These groups range from guideline writing groups, to advocacy, and to membership and fund-raising. As an example, the ACC has specific working groups targeted toward fellows such as the Pediatric Working Group and the Medical Resident Member Group. Often, these working groups will have meetings during national conferences and may have video or teleconference meetings throughout the year. Such opportunities allow trainees to participate in the organization of national medical organizations and would further facilitate networking with physicians and health care professionals from across the country.
Interview Presenters on New Research
Many organizations or groups that attend large conferences allow fellows to interview researchers on work that they have presented during the conference. As an example, the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) has a fellows-in-training blog where DCRI research fellows interview experts on their research. As an example, the trial results of the Comprehensive Lifestyle Peer Group–Based Intervention on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: The Randomized Controlled Fifty-Fifty Program was presented at AHA 2015 by Dr. Valentin Fuster (5). A Duke research fellow (Abhinav Sharma) had the opportunity to interview him on the results of the trial. The video was then disseminated through YouTube and the DCRI media outlets. Other DCRI research fellows have conducted a number of such interviews with international experts in cardiology (6). Such an experience has multiple benefits. First, it enables fellows to directly interact with experts in the field of cardiology. Second, it allows researchers to further discuss their results. Finally, it enables fellows to network with national and international cardiologists.
Attend Smaller Conferences
As trainees develop their research and clinical interests, it may be valuable to attend smaller and more specialized conferences. As an example, the ACC offers a number of specialized conferences, such as Advances in Nuclear Cardiology or the Care of the Athlete’s Heart. These smaller congresses allow the trainee to gain more directed knowledge. Furthermore, the smaller conferences give more opportunity for the trainee to interact with other national and international physicians.
After the conference has concluded, we encourage an e-mail or phone call to touch base with the individuals with whom the trainee has interacted at the conference. This post-conference follow-up is important to solidify the relationship established during the conference. Furthermore, this follow-up will allow a trainee to initiate future dialogue to discuss fellowship, research, or job opportunities.
Conferences can often be a passive experience for trainees; however, they offer a unique opportunity for academic output and career advancement. Given the limited time trainees have during fellowship, conference time should be used effectively to provide a more active and enriching experience.
RESPONSE: The Future of Cardiology
Fellow and Early Career Engagement at National Meetings
Dr. Poppas is the Chair and Dr. Kuvin is the Co-Chair of the 2016 American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Sessions.
For fellow-in-training (FIT) and early career (EC) members, attending national and international educational meetings is vital to professional and career development. Although these meetings can be overwhelming, they are the primary venues that bring together scientific leaders and the latest research and technology, and are an arena in which to connect professionally with colleagues. The academic conference is the setting, notwithstanding the fact that we live in a virtual world of digitalized communication, where young professionals can engage in direct conversations with established colleagues in their field. The benefits, moreover, of presenting original research and participating in live courses can be profound, altering one’s career trajectory.
Over time the landscape of professional conferences has changed, and there are now myriad, specialized meetings from which to choose. For example, the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Sessions brings together almost 20,000 professionals and covers nearly every research and clinical practice topic, whereas other meetings, such as the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, take a deep dive with an expert focus on particular areas of cardiovascular molecular imaging. FITs and EC professionals are typically eager to attend many of these conferences, but they often find the process of choosing the appropriate ones confusing. In addition, clinical coverage, cost, and time away remain limiting factors. Professional organizations, training programs, and practices should invest in funding and in advising young professionals to attend national meetings; the benefits are enormous and must remain a priority.
Recent attendance figures and surveys suggest that there are increasing levels of professional engagement and satisfaction by young cardiologists at meetings, including the ACC’s annual scientific sessions. Last year, of the 19,174 attendees at ACC.15, 1,829 were trainees (1,281 fellows and 548 nonmember trainees); this represents steady, yearly growth. FITs identify the ACC meeting as a rewarding experience and rated it “extremely satisfying”: 4.41 on a scale of 1 to 5. For interventionists in particular, the 60+ sessions in the i2 tract were some of the most popular, including the Fellows Boot Camp, live cases, and the simulation activities. Furthermore, engaging FITs in their own content development and programming leads to impactful education such as FIT forums, including luminaries and mentoring, scholarship and career paths, and interactive sessions (Table 3). These kinds of innovative educational formats are crucial to younger colleagues’ participation and professional development. They help to cultivate more intimate settings within such a large conference.
The key to providing impactful education is to embrace participant engagement, provide innovative educational methods, and promote interdisciplinary, team-based initiatives. The practical advice offered by Drs. Sharma, Parikh, and Fordyce is important and helpful for FITs and EC professionals. Cardiovascular meetings should assess and fulfill individual knowledge gaps and incorporate a variety of learning activities to achieve the ultimate goal of purposeful teaching and personalized education. The time we spend actually engaging one another as professional colleagues is perhaps all the more necessary—and rewarding—in the digital world we live in now. Little can replace the experience of being in the same place with colleagues who share the same passion for science and patient care. And, this is especially true for our younger colleagues, our future professional leaders in cardiology.
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- ↵Duke Cardiology Fellows’ Blog. Available at: https://www.dukecardiologyfellows.org/. Accessed April 4, 2016.