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How to make the most of a veterinary conference

  • August 2, 2017 8:24 PM EDT

    Veterinary team members attend conferences for many different reasons.  Some of us go to fulfill CE requirements, others go to travel to a new destination, while still others go for the social side and to meet up with classmates and colleagues or make new friends.  Whatever the reason, there are a plethora of benefits of attending conferences and it is important to take advantage of these as much as possible. 

    Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your next veterinary conference:

    1.  Attend as many lectures as is comfortable for you.  Once we leave the confines of veterinary school and sitting for 6+ hours each day, it can be very difficult to remain seated and attentive for an 8-10 hour stretch of lectures.  That said, because we all have CE requirements for our licenses, it is a shame to attend a conference and not get some lecture time out of it.

    2.  Get up, walk, stretch, and mingle in between lectures.  This is the perfect time to get in some movement, whether it’s taking a stroll to the bathroom or getting outside for some fresh air (and to escape the conference hall air conditioning!).  To allow you to sit comfortable for the next lecture(s), you will want to stretch your legs in between sessions.

    3.  Turn your cell phone off or keep it out of sight.  It is easy to sit in lectures and get sucked in to scrolling through Facebook, answering text messages, or checking email.  However, research demonstrates that people are terrible multi-taskers, so if you are checking your phone you are not listening to the lecture.  Try to focus on the speaker and slides and take notes if it helps you to stay present.

    4.  Get some exercise in every day.  This helps to offset the effects of sitting all day and has the benefit of keeping the mind engaged and enabling a restful sleep at night.  If you’re staying at a hotel, a gym will likely be available.  Otherwise, there are many online yoga or fitness classes that you can access on your phone or computer and do in your hotel room to get your day started off right.

    5.  Take a walk through the exhibit hall at least once.  Whether it’s to check out the latest books that you could add to your practice library, speak to reps of companies to see what new equipment or products are available, or to meet others attending the conference who might have wisdom to share, it is nice to get the conversation going and see what’s shiny and new.

    6.  Put your introvert hat to the side and attend a social function.  Most veterinary care providers are introverts, meaning we re-energize when we spend time alone.  This can make attending social functions agonizing and exhausting.  But social time is important for us as human beings and conference social events are a great way to connect with other people.  So, even if you go for just one drink or appetizer, stop by and strike up a conversation with someone, before you call it a night and retreat to your room.

    7.  Try to eat healthy and not drink too much alcohol.  While conferences very often have a plethora of food and drink available between sessions and at meal times, try to stick to healthy options whenever possible.  Avoid high carb foods (e.g., pastries, bagels) and sugary drinks (e.g., pop) that will put you into a hypoglycemic coma during lectures.  Choose vegetables and proteins whenever they are available and try to limit alcoholic beverages to 1 or 2 per day.

    8.  Spend some time outside each day.  It can be easy to go to a conference and become “trapped” inside for days on end.  Sometimes we even forget that nature exists!  Try to get outside in the daylight for at least 20-30 minutes each day, whether it’s walking to dinner, stepping out between lectures, or going for a run.  Exposure to sunlight helps keep our circadian rhythm in check and allows us to fall asleep and stay asleep at the end of the day.

    9.  Don’t forget to drink water and stay hydrated.  Very often we’re loading up on caffeinated beverages to help offset the exhaustion (or boredom!) that we can experience during long days sitting in lecture halls.  Try to remember to bring a water bottle with you that you can fill up at fountains and use to remain hydrated throughout the conference.

    10.  Come away with some take-home messages.  Sometimes the information that is garnered during lectures can feel overwhelming or not applicable to every day practice.  But usually there is at least one or two pearls from each lecture that you can bring back to your practice and share with your co-workers.  Try to make note of these and keep a list that you can share at your next staff meeting or CE sharing event. 

    Can you think of anything else that you like to do when you attend a veterinary conference?  If so, please share a comment so that other members of the veterinary community can make the most of these amazing events! 

    Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who also has an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals.  She organizes Veterinary Wellness Workshops & Retreats for veterinarians, technicians, and other veterinary care providers.  To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here.  More information can be found at