It’s great to go to conferences and soak up all that learning. The question is, what do you do with it once you get back to the office?
As I was leaving a three-day conference on a Sunday, the organizers wished me “good luck on your fourth day.” I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant.
That weekend we had been exposed to new concepts and points of view. But we also had been nestled in a cocoon with zero distractions: no phones, no TVs, no computers—they even took away our watches. We had dedicated time to concentrate on our reason for attending. On Monday we would be back in the real world. Monday … our fourth day.
Why We Need a Plan
Most CME departments are staffed by one or just a few individuals who endeavor to offer guidance on adult-learning principles, review grant submissions, issue certificates of attendance, update our CME policies, and offer continuing professional development to our staff.
We attend industry conferences such as the Alliance for CME’s annual meeting to share best practices, network with future collaborators, strengthen our competency in the industry, and seek ways to improve our processes. We make an effort to submerge ourselves in the experience that has been crafted for us by the program .
Then we return to our offices post-conference to a day that goes something like this:
1. Fill colleagues in on the highlights of the conference.
2. Retrieve voice mail messages, including one from a learner who attended an activity 10 months ago, moved, and doesn’t recall getting his certificate of attendance.
3. Go through e-mail. A lot of e-mail.
4. Make a pile on your desk of items that may eventually become your expense report.
5. Review meeting materials with print deadlines.
6. Go through yet more e-mail.
7. Look up and realize the day is over.
Many times have I sat at a conference and had an epiphany about a process improvement or modification to consider. Despite my good intentions, though, I somehow don’t get around to implementing it. I studied my past failures in hopes that I could glean some things that will help. Here’s what I found.
• Simplify the search. I’ve dedicated one notebook to conferences. It keeps all those ideas in one place. Just because you don’t implement it now, doesn’t mean you can’t try again at another time, and it is advantageous to have only one place to search for those ideas.
• Create a top-three projects list. Before you leave your hotel room (or while you are waiting at the airport), make a list of three projects you would like to accomplish when you get back. Do it while the information is fresh. Don’t convince yourself you will do it later. Trust me, you won’t.
• Admit it: You are going to need some help. Determine what resources (staff, technology support, supplies, etc.) you are going to require to make those projects happen.
• Consider zero-cost support. My college recently contacted alumni looking for internships for students. By giving a student a chance to be exposed to our industry, I can have someone dedicated to my project for two weeks, at no cost to my department.
• Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Create a realistic timeline. Most tasks are complex; you need to break them into smaller, manageable pieces.
• Give yourself a deadline. Sure, it could change, but set a realistic end date.
• Just do it! On Monday, send an e-mail to your management that includes those top-three process modifications and your implementation plan (and expense report). It’s easier to get support when colleagues understand exactly what you have in mind.
• Walk before you run. Start with project No. 1 and see it through to completion. Don’t try to start all three at once. Remember, small changes are better than no change at all.
I wish you good luck on your fourth day.
Audrie Tornow, CCMEP, is CME manager with Paradigm Medical Communications LLC in Orangeburg, N.Y. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.