Pat Stricker, RN, MEd

Senior Vice President

Have you decided to attend CMSA’s 28th Annual Conference and Expo in Chicago, June 19-23?  If so, congratulations on making a great decision to attend the largest and most highly attended Case Management Conference.  If you have decided not to attend or have not registered yet — WHY?

I know it’s difficult to decide whether to attend a conference. You have to get time off work and be away from the family. And then there is the cost of the conference, as well as travel and accommodations, which can be a cost issue. However, I’d like to share with you some reasons why you should re-consider attending.

This year’s conference, entitled “We Are Case Management”, consists of the following:

  • Pre-Conference Workshops on June 19 and 20:
    • 2-day Workshops for Certification 3600 & Integrated Case Management (additional fees)
    • 1-day workshops on June 20 for Military/VA/DOD Day (additional fee) and Writing Workshop (no additional fee)
    • 2-hour Public Policy & Professional Case Manager session on June 20 (no additional fee)
  • 3-day main conference (June 21-23):
    • Educational sessions offering up to 38 Continuing Education (CE) credits. That’s more than enough for license renewal in states that require CEs (typically average 7-15 hours/year).
    • 3 nationally known keynote speakers
    • Fifty 90-minute Concurrent Sessions:
      • Provided at various levels (Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced)
      • 8 Different Tracks: Acute Care, Workers’ Comp, Discipline Specific CM, Long-Term Care, Population Health, Managed Care, and 2 new tracks – Leadership and Legal
    • Breakfast and Lunch Symposia
    • Poster Presentations
  • Vendor’s Expo Hall with free lunch buffet & drinks, and numerous giveaways and cash prizes
  • Evening Social Event: “A Taste of Chicago Bash”
  • CMSA Annual Meeting
  • Chapter President’s Breakfast and Chapter Leader Mixer
  • Military & Government Events
  • Networking Opportunities
  • A Mobile App to improve your conference experience
  • Travel and accommodation discounts
  • And this year, CMSA is giving a free one-year membership with each paid registration! That is a savings of $170!!! How can you resist this offer?

There are people who think that live conferences are a thing of the past because we have moved on to online educational courses, webinars, and conferences. As an educator, I agree that online courses and CE offerings, like the courses contained in CMSA’s Educational Resource Library, are a great way to obtain CEs. Local chapter conferences, online educational offerings, and online webinars/seminars are also good ways to obtain continuing education, if you are unable to attend a live conference. I know it is partly a generational issue with younger nurses who are used to online offerings and older nurses who are used to attending live session, but I think it’s more than just that.

There are a lot of educational courses on the web, but a live conference will cut through the clutter and deliver the best content specific to your needs. Technology and online experiences have lessened our opportunities to connect with others face-to-face, but attending a live conference provides us with networking and direct human interactions. It allows us to discuss issues, share solutions, and learn from each other in a way that is not possible online. This live interaction results in a more valuable and satisfying experience.

Have you ever attended a live conference? If so, you have experienced the exhilarating feeling of being with 2000+ peers, who have the same goals, issues, and challenges as you. You have felt the inspiration that occurs from the interactions and discussions with these individuals. This is the power of nursing! If you are like me, you probably return to work with a sense of motivation, energy and “can-do” spirit that is contagious. This does not happen with online learning sessions.

Still not convinced?  Well, I haven’t given up trying to convince you that attending a live conference is something you need to try, at least once in your life. The following benefits and advantages highlight reasons to attend a live conference.

 

Benefits and Advantages of Attending a Live Conference

  • Networking is an essential aspect and main benefit of attending a live conference. At times it can be more valuable than the sessions themselves. It provides excellent opportunities to meet industry experts, influencers, business leaders, and thought leaders and allows us to build interpersonal relationships with them and others attendees at the conference. Networking offers the ability to share ideas and interests, get answers to questions, discuss challenges and collaborate on ways to solve difficult issues. It allows us to develop new peer contacts that we can reach out to for advice when new projects or issues arise. Networking fosters mentorship, conversing with like-minded individuals, and reaching out to those with similar programs, issues, and business models. Relationships built through networking can last for years and many of these contacts may be influential in helping you later in your career.

Example: As a vendor I met a nurse who came to our booth looking for a CM documentation system. She contacted us 2 years later when they were ready to purchase. She ran a successful program and knew how to customize the system very well to meet their unique needs. They became one of our best customers. She left her position for another opportunity and we hired her a year later for a senior management position. She is now our COO. So networking really worked well for us.

  • Education is the main focus of a conference. Attendees learn compelling subject matter from top-notch, industry experts and peers. The information is pertinent to their practice and specific to their needs, and helps increase their knowledge and expertise on industry specific topics. Effective learning opportunities are created from interactions with other attendees that encourages active participation and sharing. Poster presentations share case studies describing novel approaches to managing a problem. They engage viewers and generate thoughtful questions. Educational conferences force you to break out of your comfort zone and learn in a new environment, resulting in greater focus and reflection, changing old ways of thinking and encouraging fresh thinking to create new ideas and approaches.
    • Typical topics for presentations include: effectiveness, efficiency, new programs, innovations, technology advances, best practices, short cuts, “pearls” and lessons learned, resources to simplify practice, research findings, innovative practices, models of care, collaborative strategies, successful initiatives, clinical and financial outcomes, etc.
    • Benefits of the educational content presented include:
  • The ability to ask questions and get instant feedback from professionals and expert presenters is a huge benefit
  • The ability to approach presenters after a session and listen to questions that are asked and “what’s hot and what’s not” is invaluable
  • Learning about free available resources and being able to collect presentation materials to take home for later reference and study
  • Learning facts and statistics that will help you understand the market and industry
  • Conferences provide continuing education (CEs) credits needed for license renewal. This is usually 7-15 CEs per year, so a conference provides more than 2 years of CEs.
  • The educational content presented helps CMs meet CMSA’s Standard of Practice: O

“The professional case manager should engage in scholarly activities and maintain familiarity with current knowledge, competencies, case management-related research, and evidence supported care innovations”. , as demonstrated by: (1) Accountability and responsibility for own professional development and advancement; (2) Participation in ongoing training and/or educational opportunities (e.g., conferences, webinars, academic programs) to maintain and expand one’s skills, knowledge and competencies; and (3) Dissemination, through publication and/or presentation at conferences, of practice innovations, research findings, evidence-based practices, and quality or performance improvement efforts.”

  • The EXPO Hall allows you to learn about products and services all in one location (from vendors, universities, organizations, associations, etc.). It is an informal, causal way to meet and interact with vendors, evaluate their products and services, view demonstrations, and collect literature and brochures. The EXPO Hall also provides free giveaways and prizes from the vendors.
  • Self-Development: A good conference enables you to invest in yourself, your career, your organization, and your profession. It provides you with a sense of connection, a feeling of being part of a larger group, and a realization that you really do make a difference. Professional learning activities combined with other enjoyable experiences encourage personal and professional growth. The sessions help you expand your skills and learn more about your role and the CM industry. The non-stressful learning environment creates an atmosphere that generates energy, enthusiasm, inspiration, and motivation to tackle new challenges. Self-development also includes taking a look at the larger world-view of CM and determining where you are and where you want to be. You may decide you want to take a certification program, advance your career, or start to position yourself as a CM expert. Using networking, you can provide opportunities to let others know that you are looking for potential advancement or new job opportunities.
  • Conferences should also be fun and include personal enjoyment. The schedule should allow some personal time to exercise, relax, rest, and get enough sleep. The conference might also be extended 1-2 days to allow a little mini-vacation.
  • After the conference attendees find a burst of energy with improved moods and increased motivation, that leads to increased productivity and effectiveness.
  • To transform the nursing profession, nurses must engage in lifelong learning. Conferences provide that opportunity. Your attendance shows your commitment to this goal.
  • Corporate Benefits include bringing helpful and valuable information back to co-workers through in-service presentations and other documentation provided to co-workers. Suggestions and ideas learned at the conference are presented and discussed. Peers and company leaders then develop new programs or implement changes to current programs, based on the information learned. These types of outcomes tend to motivate peers to want to attend seminars, workshops, and team-building events.

Okay!  Are you convinced yet that you should re-consider and register for the conference?  If so, here are some suggestions for preparing for the conference and things to think about when at the conference. (But I still haven’t given up on those of you who answered “No”).

 

Personal Goals for Attending a Conference(identify at least 5 goals)

  • Identify specific areas that you are interested in learning more about
  • Set networking goals for the type of contacts you want to make; make a list of the people you want to meet (face-to-face meetings make you more than just a screen name or email address; it makes each of you more receptive once you meet each other in person); be sure to follow up with new contacts after the conference
  • Collect actionable tips, statistics and other useful information presented by industry experts and share them with your team, clients and organization upon your return
  • Learn latest updates, advancements, best practices, and trends for the future
  • Develop new skills
  • Earn xx CE credits for nursing license renewal

Before You Leave for the Conference:

  • The key to a successful experience is to plan ahead.
    • After registering, select the sessions you want to attend. Research the presenters and presentations to identify the most valuable and relevant content for your specific needs. Choose sessions with content that meets your needs and those of your organization (new job skills, best practices, how to improve outcomes, etc.) or choose a session that meets an interpersonal goal (you want to meet the presenter).
  • Download the conference’s mobile App and synchronize it your professional calendar. Turn on notifications for conference alerts so you can stay up-to-date with the latest happenings.
  • Review the schedule and map of the conference center so you know where to go. Using the conference App makes this an easy task. Download a PDF version of the final conference agenda, if you want a printed version.
  • Create a list of people you want to meet. Send them an email prior to the conference asking for a meeting. If possible, get a friend to make an email introduction before you send your invitation.
  • Take a lot of business cards to exchange with new contacts. Hint – they are also needed in the exhibit area to win prizes!!
  • Take a sweater. The conference rooms are usually cold. (Note: A few years ago the San Francisco chapter made a lot of money selling SF logo sweatshirts in the convention center. They even had to go out and buy more sweatshirts because they sold out).
  • Finish all work tasks before leaving for the conference so you are not distracted while there.

 

Tips for Conference Attendees

  • Spend time in the Exhibit Hall meeting with the exhibitors to learn about their products and services. Ask for demonstrations, if needed.
  • Take your laptop or tablet to access digital documents, presentations, etc.
  • Ask presenters for copies of their presentation materials. Give them a business card so they can send them to you.
  • Start working on key points for your staff presentation while items are fresh in your mind. Keep track of actionable tips, information, ideas, suggestions or new programs that would be beneficial to share with your organization or ideas that would help you personally in your role. Take notes so you can review later. After each session, write a small 1-2 sentence summary, connecting it to your work so you can remember what was discussed. Jot down important ideas that come to mind about sessions or new ideas. If not done while you are at the conference, you may forget by the time you get back to work.
  • Follow up after the conference with new contacts.

 

Networking Tips While at the Conference

  • Be social and expand your professional network. Make as many meaningful connections as possible, as they can be important to you later in your career.
  • Learn what others in your field are doing. Converse with like-minded individuals who have similar issues, programs, and business models. Meet with peers from other organizations to learn what is working for them.
  • Research the needs of your target audience and meet with potential customers and clients.
  • When conversing, listen carefully and ask thoughtful questions. Have pre-planned conversation starters ready to use, e.g. What is you biggest challenge and how are you approaching it?
  • Build name recognition for you and your organization by networking and passing out your business cards or brochures. This also increases your email lists and lead generation by receiving other peoples’ business cards.
  • Attend after-hours events. It can be a good way to create informal connections.
  • If you are going to the conference with friends or co-workers, make an effort not to spend too much time socializing with them. Reach out and network with those you don’t know.
  • Free, personal time on the schedule is a great time to socialize and meet others.

Okay, how are we doing? Have I convinced you yet? If I’ve convinced you to attend, but your organization has not agreed to pay for your attendance, refer to the following to see if you can develop a proposal requesting them to pay your expenses. Keep some of these points in mind when writing your proposal. Even if they don’t pay the entire amount, it would help if they agreed to pay part of the costs, e.g. the registration or the hotel, transportation and meals.

 

Reasons Employers Pay for Employees to Attend Conferences

  • Some visionary employers pay for conference. They recognize the value of continuing education and cover the entire cost for conference attendance, including time off. They encourage participation, understand its value, and have budgeted funds for conferences. The understand that well-prepared nurses are better able to meet the challenges of their jobs, overcome obstacles and mentor others. However there are other employers who do not believe as strongly in this concept or who do not have the budget for it.
  • Learning in a conference environment provides a unique learning experience that is hard to duplicate. It solidifies learning and professional growth and helps develop new skills, catch up on the latest trends, spark inspiration, and rekindle passion. It allows employees to get out of the office, gain confidence in their ability, and bring fresh ideas back to the business. The information can be brought back to other teams and shared assuring that not only the employee benefits, but the company does also. Attendance also strengthens company culture, fosters collaborative team-building, and inspires shared excitement around work related topics.
  • Companies use conference attendance as a recruiting and retention tool. Promoting employee attendance at conferences serves as a recognition and reward. Having employees attend conferences is a long-term investment. It influences employees’ attitudes towards their jobs, as well as their employers. Encouraging employees to go to conferences indicates they care about their staff’s personal development.
  • Employees who attend conferences should be expected to share what they learned and present an in-service for co-workers, providing suggestions for workplace improvements. Doing this also encourages the employee to be more focused and engaged during the conference.
    • There is no substitute for attending a live, face-to-face professional development conference relevant to business/career goals and needs. It instills a renewed sense of purpose and long-term relationships. Attending this type of conference allows the attendee to gain experiences and learn lessons that will give them the tools to grow professionally and personally.
  • After attending a conference, attendees are usually energized and engaged and they share this excitement with the entire department, which sparks ideas for practice innovations.

 

Time and Cost

  • The principle issues are time and money. Despite the plentiful excuses, the benefits far outweigh the cost and time spent. Remember, just one great idea can make the time and money spent on the conference worthwhile.
  • Time is one of our most valuable resources. Time at a conference is time away from home and family. Many clinicians are unable to completely get away from the work environment, so it affects their experience and makes it difficult to focus totally on the conference.
  • Cost is an investment. The benefits gained are a return on that investment. If multiple people attend, the value can be even greater because discounts can be obtained for shared lodging, transportation and food costs, as well as discounts for group registrations. This arrangement also provides a unique opportunity for mentoring. If only a few can attend, an experienced nurse should be sent with a new nurse. If living within driving distance, one-day registrations allows more nurses to attend.
  • The networking value of a conference is difficult to quantify, yet it remains an essential aspect

 

Justification for Proposal

CMSA has developed a CMSA Justification Kit to help individual CMs justify their conference attendance in hopes of getting approved for reimbursement. It includes everything needed to present a request to a manager for approval. Completing these items will help assure a solid proposal. It includes:

  • Conference Goals
  • Proposed sessions and activities and how they benefit you and the organization
  • Cost Worksheet that contains accommodation and transportation fees with cost savings ideas
  • Benefit Worksheet to explain the benefits of sessions to the CM and organization
  • A Cover Letter to their supervisor
  • Infographics with Data on the Benefits of Attending

You should be very exacting when completing the documents in this kit. Be sure to include some of the pertinent points included in this article to support your proposal. Place special focus on explaining cost vs. benefit. Explain how costs will be reduced, e.g. sharing hotel room expenses, free lunch included in the cost of registration, the fact that a free membership worth $170 is provided with the registration, discounts on airfare and hotel, etc.  Be sure to remind them that just one great idea can make the time and money spent on the conference worthwhile.

You should explain what you will gain or obtain by attending the conference and how the organization will benefit from new ideas, information, connections, and innovations learned at the conference.

  • Each session that will be attended should be explained stressing how it will benefit the employee and the organization.
  • Ideas for networking should also be explained. Although this is one of the most important aspects of the conference, it is also the hardest to quantify for value and cost reduction.
  • Identify current and new potential vendors who will be at the conference with an explanation about how in-person contact with them may be advantageous.
  • List the best practice or trainings that will be beneficial to you and/or your organization.
  • Other advantages that you might want to keep in mind include:
    • The CMSA conference is the premier educational conference for CMs presented by experts. Concurrent sessions are presented to allow more flexibility to tailor an education experience that meets your specific needs.
    • It allows attendees to meet and build relationships with business partners and vendors and learn from other similar types of organization. This helps build collaborative partnerships that improve services.
    • It provides innovative solutions that help reduce cost. Be sure to focus as much as possible on how each item helps reduce costs.
    • The 3-day conference experience cannot be obtained any other way. It would take months to obtain the knowledge and number of CEs presented in these 3 days
    • It benefits professionals at all levels and provides an excellent opportunity to improve performance. It provides, to new and experienced CMs, innovative ways to deliver programs, improve patient outcomes, and become more effective.
  • Explain in detail the type of staff training you will do upon return, e.g. in-service presentation, executive summary,  skill-building highlights, list of key takeaways from the conference, best practices, ideas for department improvements, vendor ideas and suggestions, new or updated program suggestions, etc.

There is also another source document from Writing Assistance, Inc. that provides a kit that explains “How to Justify Conference Attendance”.  It is similar to the one provided by CMSA, including Expense and Benefits Worksheets and suggestions for items to include in the justification and in the report to your management after the conference. It has detailed information on how to complete each step and it may also be helpful in creating your justification documentation.

Being an educator for 40 years, I feel all nurses should be allowed to attend at least one conference a year, but let’s face it, that’s not possible.  Organizations do not have those types of budgets. Often departments are lucky to be able to send one or possibly two nurses to a particular conference. So, to have a chance at attending and getting reimbursed, CMs need to learn to write these justification proposals. Luckily CMSA has provided the Justification Kit for us to use.

 

Conclusion

So, I hope I was able to convince you that live conferences are not a thing of the past and that they are more valuable now than ever. Their value is in the person-to-person connections that occur, the networking, and the discussion that happens during and after the sessions. These human interactions are irreplaceable and the most valuable part of the conference.

I hope I was also able to convince you to register for the conference (or at least put it on your calendar for next year). It truly is an uplifting, amazing experience because of the people and the invigorating environment. You will NOT regret it!  And I’ll bet it won’t be the last live conference you attend.

I hope to see you in Chicago. If you come, please stop by our TCS Healthcare Technologies booth so we can meet in-person and “network”.  I look forward to meeting you.