December 2nd, 2009

Cardiology in the Big Tent
Helping our fellows make the most of a national meeting

I remember the first national meetings I attended as a fellow. They were sensory overload experiences: Huge crowds, stargazing at the cardiology luminaries, preparing and overpreparing for my own talks (attended by few beyond my closest friends), staying up too late at the lobby bars.

Now, seeing this experience through the eyes of our own fellows, I’ve found that unless we provide some guidance, they don’t get as much out of the meeting as they should. We send each fellow to one national meeting a year (more, if they are presenting). Here is a version of the email we send them before the meeting:

Prepare in advance. The meeting is enormous, and if you wait to decide what to do, you will spend your day running back and forth across the conference center without learning much

Focus on full or half sessions rather than individual talks
You will usually learn more from the didactic lectures/symposia than the research talks, unless the talks are in an area of particular interest to you.
Identify one or two clinical areas in which you feel you need more depth of knowledge, or that we have not focused on sufficiently, and learn about these areas in depth

2.    Remember that this is a business trip, not a vacation

Have a great time . . . but remember that you represent the program at all times
Be an ambassador for the program
Attend as much of the meeting as possible each day

3.     You do not need to attend your own faculty’s programs

This is your opportunity to get exposure to experts outside our institution

4.     You should plan to attend your co-fellows’ presentations and poster sessions

Friendly faces make a huge difference to colleagues who are presenting

I’d be interested to know your program’s policies regarding the national meetings. How important are these meetings to the overall fellowship experience? Did you learn anything new? Was the networking valuable? Is it worth the expense to send the fellows to the big meetings, or would the money be better spent on other educational opportunities?

5 Responses to “Cardiology in the Big Tent
Helping our fellows make the most of a national meeting”

  1. Thanks so much for posting this — super helpful. As a fellow, I’ve been to a few national meetings now and I still find them overwhelming. I especially appreciate your recommendation to attend whole sessions instead of single talks. At the last AHA, I missed half of what was probably the one presentation that I was most looking forward to because the presentation just before it had been withdrawn so it ended up starting earlier than scheduled. If I had attended the whole session, I probably would have learned much more and also not missed half the talk!

    I also have to add that the early training/career sessions on Saturday at the AHA were fantastic. I’ve always missed these in the past and underestimated their value when considering them before, but they were really outstanding and probably the best series of talks I went to all meeting. This content is definitely not in journals or textbooks or online or anywhere else — picked up a ton of pearls there.

    Funny you should mention networking. While waiting to enter a poster session, I bumped into a former residency classmate and learned that he’s doing research that really complements some of my own. So we ended up being able to both catch up socially and talk about our research projects, and it all happened by accident. Or, maybe, because it’s actually a small world in the big tent.

    So my bottom line 2 cents is that it’s definitely worth sending fellows to big meetings. That being said, my friends in basic science tell me they tend to get the most out of smaller meetings and courses, like those at Keystone or Cold Spring Harbor. So I guess it’s somewhat relative… but please continue the funding!

  2. Our program (Washington University in St Louis) also provides sufficient travel funds to attend at least one meeting a year, even for fellows that are not giving a poster or oral presentation. Everyone that comes back from a meeting is usually energized and excited about cardiology and research. I think that keeping that opportunity open is key. Unfortunately, some fellows don’t even take the opportunity to attend a meeting every year because they are worried about being away from their assigned clinical services. They definitely wouldn’t go if they had to come up with $1000 out of pocket in addition to finding coverage!

    I agree with Dr. de Lamos’s advice, especially to prepare in advance and to not necessarily attend talks from your own faculty – you should see their talks on your own campus! I recently attended the AHA, and despite a good bit of preparation, I still came away a little disappointed in my ability to see everything I intended. In particular, I wished I had spent more time with the posters and less in the oral sessions. With the posters, you can skim by many of them quickly, and spend time with the ones that are most interesting/relevant. In an oral session, if a particular talk is terrible, you mostly have to sit there and see what the next one brings!

    Finally, as an MD/PhD interested in the basic and translational sciences, I have to concur with Dr. Cheng that I have gotten much more out of Gorden Conferences and Keystone Meetings than I got out of the AHA meeting. I have heard that the HFSA scientific sessions are very good and I plan to attend that next year.

  3. I think this is great checklist for fellows to know prior to going to a national meeting. In particular- I think it is extremely important to take the time at the beginning of the meeting to look over all the different talks to see what interests you and what you are deficient in that would add to your fund of knowledge. Otherwise, you’ll look back and realize you missed something that you wished you would have gone to. Mix up what you go to- from large sessions to smaller, more focused talks to get the full experience. Know that the lunch talks are often very crowded, so you may need to get there early. (The hemodynamic talks are always great). Also, I found that unfortunately, many of the fellows in training sessions were in these small classrooms off the beaten path- and by the time I would get there I couldn’t even get in the door, much less here the talk. So I recommend getting to these extremely early (esp if they offer free food to the first 50- better get there an hour in advance). Most importantly, realize that you are given an opportuntity to hear from some of the world’s leading experts in cardiology- an incredible chance to hear true legends. Though Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando are fun vacay spots- take advantage of the opportunity to expand your knowledge of cardiology and network! It is definitely worth it.

  4. Duraisamy Balaguru, MBBS says:

    Quite an useful set of instructions to the fellows.

    One additional suggestion. Not as difficult to do as it sounds. We did this hen we were fellows. After returning from the meeting, each one who went to the meeting should present 1 or 2 abstracts that attracted their attention at the meeting. Faculty members also participated in this and were good role models. We were told about this ahead of time. All through the meeting, you keep deciding which abstract(s) to present when you get back. Some kind of fun!

  5. Saurav Chatterjee, MD says:

    What would the advice be for a academic cardiology fellowship aspirant attending his first AHA and presenting for the first time??Advise us mentors……..