Four years ago, a couple of hand surgeons who had gone through training together had a great idea: They decided to start a travel club where they'd meet once a year at a family-friendly destination and share some of their more difficult cases, solutions, new techniques, and some quality time together.

After some wrangling to set it up as a 501(c) nonprofit for tax purposes, the Carpe Diem Hand Club debuted in 2000, and it has been growing every year since as the word spreads about the education-laden trips to places like Nantucket, Mass., and Lake Tahoe, Calif.

They rotate the presidency every year, and each year's president gets to pick the location of the next meeting and be the de facto meeting planner. While attendance has been growing steadily each year since the group began, the club caps it at 30 hand surgeons and their families to keep the small-group dynamics that make the education so worthwhile, says this year's president, Jeff Rodgers, MD, a hand surgeon at Des Moines Orthopaedic Surgeons, Des Moines, Iowa.

Rodgers picked the Teton Mountain Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where 15 of the club members and their families spent four days in June learning from each other, playing in the mountains, and enjoying some family time. “It's great for the kids of the various families to be able to get to see each other,” he says. “It starts to feel like one big family when some of the same people come back year to year.” To maintain membership, the surgeons have to come to the meeting at least once every three years.

The Case for Meeting

It's not all fun and games, though. The surgeons each bring challenging cases, which they discuss in meetings from 6 a.m. to noon. “We talk about what does and doesn't work, and share our experiences with our peer group,” says Rodgers. “We find it to be an extremely valuable complement to the annual meeting of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, which actively promotes travel clubs as an adjunct to what they do.” The club also has a Yahoo Group Web site, where they continue to discuss cases and share photos throughout the year.

The education is certified for for CME credit, though whether it's Category 1 or 2 depends on the meeting's location. “Last year in Lake Tahoe, we had a member from California whose organization could sponsor the meeting for Category 1 credit,” he says. “This year, we don't have any members in Wyoming, so it was Category 2.”

The surgeons also invite medical distributors in to demonstrate hand surgery products, and sometimes serve as unofficial, unpaid consultants for distributors who want to bring in pre-market products for them to evaluate and comment on. While the club is small and relatively informal, it still has to abide by the rules when it comes to vendor relationships: “It's important for us to stay current on the regulations around CME,” says Rodgers. “We need to know that vendors can't buy us dinner.”

Next on the Carpe Diem Hand Club's agenda is to conduct research annually, based on the pool of cases they have access to among the 30 members, and have the results published in industry journals. “It's another way for us to expand our knowledge and pass some of it on to others in our field,” says Rodgers.