So...You've Decided to Attend a Conference???

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    Learning is a life-long goal. Even as experienced nurses, we need to continue to learn. Attending conferences is a great way to learn, network and expand your horizons.

    So...You've Decided to Attend a Conference???

    Making the Commitment

    We all know how quickly nursing changes. What was the up to date care five years ago or even one year ago is no longer considered evidence based practice! So, how to get up to speed? Well one of the best ways is to attend a conference.

    There are many different conferences for many different specialties. Some are on the local level, some national and even some international. How to pick and choose one?

    1. First, decide what it is you want to accomplish with this knowledge? Do you want to pursue a larger role in your present unit? Become an expert in a certain area? Do you want to learn how to deal with difficult patients, co-workers or your boss - improve your interpersonal skills? Do you want to try something different? Explore a new job?

    2. Once you have a goal in mind, discuss it with others that share your goals. What conferences have they attended? What new knowledge did they acquire? Also ask around: maybe someone else is wanting to go also and you could split costs. This is especially important if your organization doesn't pick up the tab. (More on that later).

    3. If this is your first nursing conference perhaps the place to start is a local or statewide conference. Many organizations like the Emergency Nurses Association, advanced practice groups, American Society of Critical Care Nurses offer excellent state or regional conferences. You don't have to be a member of an organization to attend the conference. However, the price is usually discounted for members. This is also a good way to "try out" an organization also to see if you want to join.

    How to pay for the conferences?

    Conferences are expensive. Do you receive educational money from your organization? Are there scholarships available? Some ways I've come up with the money in the past for conferences:

    1. When the organization offered educational money for school, I've pitched the idea of using some of that money for a conference.

    2. I offer to conduct bite-sized educational pieces to the unit in exchange for conference cost. These have included bathroom/locker room poster presentations, short spiels at shift report, and a presentation at a monthly unit meeting. I've also worked on updated policy and procedure books to reflect current practice.

    3. Shared costs with a co-worker. I've driven to conferences (when reasonable) to cut costs and shared a hotel room.

    4. Combined a conference with a family vacation. My husband and I are actually doing this soon.

    5. Some conference sites offer ready-made letters to personalize for your boss to show what benefit the conference will have for the entire unit. I've used these in the past also.

    Now...you are ready to go...or are you?

    1. The earlier you register, the best chance you will have to pick the sessions you want to attend and get the best hotel rate. If possible, I try to register in the "early-bird" period in order to have the best picks. I peruse the topics to see what interests me or which speaker I would most like to hear. Many larger conferences, offer pre-conference sessions as well. These can be great opportunities to network and further hone skills or delve in-depth to a subject.

    2. A word about hotels: try to get a room at the conference hotel. These might not always be the cheapest in the area, but the convenience is worth the money in my book. I've been to conferences in cities where I chose price over convenience and either walked two miles (because it was rush hour and there were no cabs), got into a cab and was way overcharged or misjudged the time and ended up late to a session I really wanted to attend.

    3. Transportation: start scouting flights as soon as you decide where/when you are going. On most travel sites you can set alarms so that you are notified when a price drops.

    4. Cancellations: Invest in travel insurance. Unfortunately, I have used this approximately three years ago when, the day before I was to go to a conference, my grand-daughter had a massive stroke and was in PICU with a grave prognosis. With travel insurance, I was able to recoup 100% of my flight/hotel and when I explained to the organizers of the conference, they graciously refunded my money also.

    You've arrived

    Save your receipts. If you are not reimbursed by your organization, these expenses can be tax deductible.

    Check into your hotel and obtain a map of the hotel and surrounding area. Where are the restaurants? The sites of interest locally. If you are not in the conference hotel, plan now on how to get to the conference sites. Ask the hotel concierge how much time should you allow to get to the conference? If you are taking a cab, find out approximately the cost BEFORE you engage their services. Is mass-transit available and convenient? If other attendees are in the same hotel, is there a conference shuttle, can you share rides and split the cost?

    Expect to do a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes. This might be the most important tip of all! Eat a protein-filled breakfast to power you thru the morning sessions. Bring snacks that can be eaten on the run. For lunch, the conference food stands and restaurants can often be over-run. They may not be open all day either. Perhaps grab lunch on one of your earlier breaks instead of the traditional lunch time.

    Use your lunch time wait to network and talk with others in line - maybe arrange to get together for dinner to discuss the conference, their work environment. Ask if they have attended the conference before and if yes, what are their tips?

    Most of all...enjoy yourself, learn something new, get refreshed and take back some knowledge to your unit.

    Have a great conference experience!

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