Maximizing Education and Networking at CME Conferences

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Tracy Bingaman

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I'm a PA who burned out, big time, and now I teach PAs to negotiate effectively because every PA deserves a paycheck they are proud of and to feel valued at work. I love leopard print, skiing, and my morning routine. My mission? To help PAs stop feeling overworked, underpaid and overwhelmed and start feeling valued and earning what they deserve.

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Continuing Medical Education (CME) – A Necessary Evil

Say it with me: CME Conferences are fun!

CME Conferences are for learning!

CME Conferences can also feel… overwhelming.

Attending conferences is par for the course for practicing PAs and in this post-COVID world we are getting back to in-person meetings which feels so darn good. 

Some people might think about in person conferences and think “ugh” what a drain on our energy, time away from my family and clinic, a necessary evil, so to speak in order to obtain CME hours for your current certification cycle. 

Others could think yeehaw! An opportunity to get away, explore a new city, change up the routine, learn and connect with other PAs. 

This episode of The PA Is In is a guide to getting the most out of CME travel, conferences and how to do this in a way that meets your education, career and connection goals. Let’s do this!


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Why We Need CME

Conferences, from regional to state and at a national level, are a common part of the way that we obtain continuing medical education hours. 

To catch you up to speed, Continuing Medical Education, as PAs, we all need it. PAs need 100 hours every 2 years, 50 of which need to be category 1 CME, according to current requirements to stay current with the NCCPA and retain our national certification

Tip 1: Identify Your Objective

When you are traveling to a conference, the best way to get the most out of it is to decide exactly what you want to learn, do, or achieve as a part of your attendance. 

These objectives typically fall into one of three categories: education, career and connection.

Education – obtaining new information for the benefit of your patients, practice, and yourself. This typically checks two boxes – CME hours and improved knowledge that you can take back and apply in your practice. 

Career – whether looking for a new position in your current location or specialty or searching for a change in setting or yearning to make a big move across the state or country, if you are on the cusp of a career move, clearly identify that and how conference attendance can help you on that journey.

Connection – despite being a part of a growing profession with increasing PAs year-after-year, when we are practicing medicine it can easily feel like we are on an island. Conferences are a great opportunity to network and connect with other providers in your specialty, other PAs, other leaders. You can work to network with those who are similar to you or identify where you want to be and connect with possible mentors and leaders in your field. 

When you clearly identify the main reason for attending a conference, that objective helps to inform the way you plan your schedule and attendance to CME sessions, social activities, the EXPO hall, and more. 

Tip 2: Plan Your Approach 

Using your objective as the compass for where you want to go and what you want to achieve as a part of your conference experience, the next tip is to plan your approach and schedule accordingly.

If you are hot on the trail of a new job, considering locums, or wanting to break into industry, you may find the exhibitors in the expo hall to be a better use of your time over specific CME sessions.

Another contributing factor into this decision-making is whether the sessions are available for replay virtually on the conference platform after-the-fact. This makes it easier to pass on certain CME sessions with plans to watch at a later date. 

A word to the wise: if you plan to review the CME sessions that are recorded at an interval – write it down. Block time on your calendar to work through the content, take the post-test, so the evaluation and claim the CME.

Tip 3: Maximize Your CME

There are two ways that you can intentionally make the most out of your actual learning as a part of conference attendance. The first is by being focused, present and attentive when learning and the second is being diligent about logging that CME appropriately. 

First, getting the most out of sessions that you attend. If you are going to spend your precious time sitting in a lecture hall learning about literally anything, you want it to be fruitful.

The single best way to learn the most from any lecturer, even those who are less vibrant and engaging, is to eliminate distractions. Put your phone AWAY in your bag. Don’t connect to the WiFi. Take notes on paper with an actual PEN *gasp*. 

Wrap up each session with 1-3 take away points that are applicable to your practice and that you want to remember from this particular session. Write down a couple of action items for how you can integrate this knowledge into the way you practice medicine once you return home. 

You can only claim category one continuing medical education credits for sessions that you personally attend. What’s more, unless you complete the evaluation, get the certificate, and log those hours in NCCPA, you don’t truly receive credit for the learning that you did inside of that session. 

Create a system where you track what sessions you attended, do the evaluations as you go, and log all the CME from your conference at one time inside of the NCCPA. Some conferences have the benefit of a live interface between their conference app and the NCCPA, and will log your credit hours for you on the back end.

Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the work you did is reflected in your NCCPA CME log ongoing. 

Tip 4: Be Courageous

When it comes to networking, connecting, and building a supportive community around you, this often includes stepping out of your comfort zone.

Whether you are inviting those in your row to join you for dinner and drinks – seeking community and an opportunity to connect with other healthcare providers who just get it – or boldly walking up to a potential employer in the expo hall, change and connection requires courage.

Courage is doing the darn thing, not without fear – it’s not being fearless – it’s taking the step and doing the thing despite the fears that you have.

Some of the best experiences I’ve had at conferences have come from connections that I’ve made. Each time either the person I was connecting with or myself had to say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, would you like to sit with us/eat dinner together/grab a drink.”

Kind of like asking someone on a date, but completely platonic. When you are the ask-er you need courage to battle the potential rejection – spoiler alert, they almost always say YES – and when you are the asked you need the courage to pivot your plans or take the chance to connect with someone else.

Tip 5: Pace Yourself

When my PA bestie and I conquered the AAPA national conference this year, this tip is one that we could have used at the beginning of the CME days. Pace yourself.

We came out of the gate HOT – the first day I attended the early AM workout session, did 5 hours of CME, punctuated by the industry luncheon in the middle of the day and the welcome reception in the evening – followed by dinner downtown. All-in-all, except a 30-minute intermission in our hotel room to change into nighttime clothes, we were on the go for more than 14 hours on day 1.

Now, for you, that might be sustainable and a rate that you plan to maintain for the duration of the conference. That’s going to depend on you, your season of life, how badly you want CME hours, and again, goes back to that objective you set before the conference. 

We petered out. We didn’t do 5.0 hours of CME each day and started skipping the industry luncheon for a walk outside, some fresh air, and even a nap a couple of days.

The schedule, options for CME and opportunities for social and networking events can be overwhelming. Feel free to say no early and often to things that are going to make the conference a draining instead of energizing experience for you. 

Tip 6: Change It Up

Be willing to change up the way that you’ve approached CME in the past. This includes being open to attending other conferences. 

If you always attend a local state conference, consider heading to the AAPA one year. Historically attending specialty-specific conferences but have the PANRE coming up? How about a board review course or a general CME conference focused on broadening your knowledge base and prepping for that upcoming recertification exam.

The way you’ve done it might be great, or not-so-great, and as creatures of habit we can end up in a CME rut. You give new conferences and experiences a try when you change it up. 

Tip 7: Extracurriculars

One of the greatest part of traveling to CME conferences is getting to see different places. There are CMEs in major cities, wilderness adventures and even conferences at ski resorts where you attend class in the early morning and afternoon and ski in the middle of the day. 

I have friends who attend CME on the beach because they love the opportunity to have your employer pay for travel and accommodations and the beach is what they love. Don’t have CME funds as a part of your compensation package? Book a Negotiation Consult today so we can change that!

Don’t forget, in your haste to network and log those CMEs, to carve out time to enjoy the city, experience the things, and be able to enjoy yourself and adventure a little. 

Tip 8: Virtual CME

Although travel has opened up as of now and in person gatherings carry an entirely different vibe than self-paced or virtual CME conferences, these are great options.

Virtual CME offers increased flexibility, the opportunity to do CME on your terms and if you are in a season where travel and time away feels more overwhelming than exciting, virtual is a great option.

If you are going to elect for CME that is pre-recorded, virtual, or self-paced here are two things to do to make sure you get your monies worth. 1) Understand when the CME expires. How long will you have access and how long are the CME hours good for?

Knowing the duration of access and how long until the CME expires helps you with 2) Schedule time on your calendar to learn the modules.

This comes along with any conference you attend that includes remote replays and access to any sessions that you missed.

These recorded sessions only count if you do them. Set aside time on your calendar, protected time outside of work and other commitments, to complete the continuing medical education sessions. 

Tip 9: Don’t Procrastinate

I get it, you’re busy. Sometimes we plainly procrastinate. Sometimes we spend time researching and planning. We take action in searching, scheduling, but we don’t actually do the darn thing.

Procrastination, namely waiting until the end of your second year of the two-year cycle, isn’t serving you. Create a plan for the remainder of your cycle.

Take a look at how many hours you need and when your cycle ends. Do the math and determine the rate at which you need to accumulate hours and create a plan for when you are going to log those hours. 

Tip 10: Choose Topics of Service and Interest

As we are talking about continuing medical education and improving both our knowledge base and our ability to care for our patients, my last tip is to choose topics of service to our careers, patients and areas of interest.

Whether you choose to do a deep dive on a specialty where you already work, a subset of patients that you’d like to care for, or something outside your comfort zone, choose things that are of service and interest.

Service – Are these topics going to serve your career and give you skills and abilities that you haven’t already obtained? Does learning these things serve your current or future patient population?

Interest – Are the topics, specialty and coverage of the course of interest to you? Does it make sense based on what you do for work currently and also where you want your career to go? 

Don’t wander through CME just working to merely count up the hours. Being strategic about the topics and amounts of education  you are getting in these various categories will serve you well. 
There you have it, my top 10 tips for making the most of your next CME conference. Remember your WHY – the reason that you went into medicine in the first place. Personally I often feel extra excited about applying the knowledge I’ve learned and bringing it back to my patients, job, and organization, after attending a CME conference.

Continuing medical education doesn’t have to be a drag and can, conversely, be a huge benefit to you and your patients! I hope this podcast has helped you to change your mindset about conferences and how to get the most out of those learning opportunities.

I'm Tracy Bingaman

It's so nice to meet you... I’m a PA Mom life coach, self-care promoter, curly haired achiever, mom and dog mom, and a margarita drinking badass.

I burned out working as a PA... BIG TIME. I quit my job, doubled my hourly income earned, work half as much and learned to build a life around the things that I value instead of a schedule set by someone else and now I get to share all that I've learned with you. 

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Now I teach PAs to do the same.

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