With 50,000 healthcare professionals working at the Texas Medical Center, one can draw the conclusion that every medical association in existence probably has a member-and maybe an expert-right here in our own backyard," says Debra Hall, spokesperson for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau Healthcare Congress.

"We want them to feel confident recommending Houston." This summer Houston opened its Healthcare Congress Leadership Council-a group of 20 local healthcare professionals-joining a handful of cities that have recognized their own medical community's power to attract medical meetings.

Planners already accustomed to lobbying by association board members on behalf of their hometowns may be less than thrilled by this idea, but there is an upside: At least lobbyists from Houston will be well-informed about access to speakers, extra services, and such facilities as The Edwin Hornberger Conference Center, the former ballroom of the old Shamrock Hotel, located within the Texas Medical Center.

The Leadership Council provides planners with a very well-connected source for speakers and laboratory venues. In addition to Jeffrey Rasco, CMP, who is director of marketing, faculty educational resources at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, there are representatives from four local medical associations.

For more information about the Greater Houston Healthcare Congress, call (713) 227-3100.

Following are three more examples of cities where the CVB has made overt efforts to bring medical meetings to town:

Philadelphia If Houston's Healthcare Congress is the newest, Philadelphia's is the oldest, now in its sixth year of operation. "Thirty-two percent of all our conventions are healthcare-related," says Tom Muldoon, president of the Philadelphia CVB. "It's not by accident. The Philadelphia Healthcare Congress is here to help medical people be better cheerleaders for the city, and to help them be good hosts." The congress not only coaches its healthcare leaders in the fine art of promoting their city, but also offers access to experts, up to and including such healthcare celebrities as David Nash, director of health policy and clinical outcomes at Jefferson Medical College. The city also has connections for such special events as dinner for 200 at the historic Philadelphia College of Physicians.

For more information about the Philadelphia Healthcare Congress, call (215) 636-4403.

Boston The Boston Medical Alliance (BMA) was formed to support local physicians who have no meeting planning experience but are trying to bring international medical conferences to the city. "Basically, we hold their hands through the meeting planning process," says Andrea Shamoian, convention sales manager for the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We help them prepare the RFP, accompany them on their site inspections, provide marketing support-and we translate meeting planning language into English so the doctors understand what the bids say."

For more information about the BMA, call Andrea Shamoian's office at (617) 536-4100.

Nashville Nashville's Health Care Council was formed in October 1995, not to bring medical conferences, but medical businesses, to the city. Nonetheless, the council has formed a speaker's bureau, and its 15-member board includes healthcare heavyweights from Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain, and many others.

To learn more about the council's potential for helping conference organizers call (615) 386-4660.