But, professionals, including RMTs, are busy people who may not have time for the full range of conference offerings. Furthermore, attending these events involves expenditures, which can make them cost prohibitive, compounded with having to close up shop for a few days – or arrange for a replacement – while away. Additionally, for clinic owners, the need to send staff members for learning events can be seen as a further inconvenience, as this incurs more costs and results in being short-staffed while workers are out.
However, the plain truth is that, in every profession, a good continuing education event – conference, workshop, seminar, lecture or even a webinar – can be a useful investment for a practice/business. These events represent opportunities to enhance one’s knowledge and skill sets, network with colleagues or services that could benefit the practice/business, get away from the office to gain a clearer perspective on challenging issues, and more.
Many writers and speakers present ideas on how to maximize the benefits of conference attendance; these can be found in great numbers on bookshelves and all over the Internet. The goal of this article is to collate some of those ideas and initiate a strategy for RMTs who wish to identify, partake in and benefit from the various learning events offered throughout the profession.
How many conferences/CE events should I attend?
If you Google this question, you’ll find a gaggle of answers. In fact, determining the answer for yourself as a therapist – and, if applicable, a practice/business owner – depends on very individualized factors coupled with jurisdictional requirements. Some RMTs may be in a position to attend a large number and variety of seminars and/or conferences and greatly enhance their skill sets while developing a well-rounded perspective of their profession. However, most therapists must narrow down the events they attend.
Here, are some points to consider when trying to decide what to spend your resourses on:
- Where will I find those elements that will best serve my particular practice?
- How many continuing education credits does my jurisdiction require me to achieve, and how many does each particular event offer?
- Which events include meetings of my professional associations/colleges etc?
- In what areas do I wish to enhance my knowledge/skills?
- What new topics do I want to learn about?
- In other words, determine exactly what you want to get out of your continuing education experiences in order to determine how much time, effort and expense you want to put into them. When you have determined these, you can start searching for the events that you would like to attend.
Listings of reputable professional education events can be found through provincial and subspecialty association/college websites, the websites of some massage therapy schools, or the websites/newsletters of more prominent publications in your field. For RMTs, there are a number of reliable sources available in Canada and the United States, and it could be well worth it to check out the information available outside your jurisdiction or group.
Visit the websites of different provinces and schools, and those of as many publications as you can think of, in your areas of interest. Talk to other RMTs and see what they’re attending and why. A little research will reveal a roster of events you may not otherwise hear about – it may turn out to be more worthwhile for you to attend one event in another province rather than three that “sound good” because they are closer to home.
Do I take/send my staff?
This will, again, depend on a number of individual factors. Having said that, downplaying your staff members’ desire and ability to contribute to your practice through learning opportunities could result in a disorganized, misinformed or confused crew, ultimately costing you more money, time and negative energy, rather than providing the streamlined, patient-centered environment that you aspire to for your practice.
At least one opportunity per year should be provided to each staff member for professional development. The event you choose to agree to send them to – or take them with you to – will, again, depend on the requirements and focus of your practice. This gives your staff members:
the message that you respect them as professionals, an opportunity to enrich/add to their skills and broaden their knowledge, a chance to meet and network with colleagues, compare notes and, perhaps, pick up helpful strategies/ideas that will assist them in their duties and, thus, benefit your practice.
Tips on Maximizing the Conference Experience
We have already learned that this process does not begin with the plane ride to where-ever, but that it, in fact, begins well before that. The following tips expand on this concept while considering the days at the event:
Preparation tips: (about a week in advance)
- Choose sessions ahead of time.
- Write down questions you’d like answered and/or goals you’d like to accomplish. Discuss goals with your staff/partners, if they are attending with you.
- Try to stay at the hotel of the conference or very close by.
- Make sure you have a good supply of business cards. Even if you are not speaking, selling something or otherwise intending to advertise yourself, always bring business cards so that others can have your contact information to remember you by. It may open up unexpected networks or opportunities!
- Choose your wardrobe. If there are hands-on sessions, remember to dress for these - wear loose fitting casual clothing that will permit you to carry out various techniques and/or pose as a practice subject for one of your colleagues. If the conference is comprised of seminars featuring business and networking opportunities, bring business/casual attire or more formal outfits, if appropriate. Before you poo-poo this planning, consider the last time you tried to concentrate in a pair of ill-fitting shoes or made a bad impression because you were inappropriately dressed. Have extras with you. (Trust me on this one.) Wardrobe malfunctions can result in expensive emergency purchases and valuable time lost from your conference and networking.
- Plan your travel so that you arrive in time to attend everything you need to. Know when registration is and plan to arrive early so you don’t miss lectures because you’re caught in a line-up.
- If you usually perform a workout routine in the morning, plan to do so during your conference. It will energize you for a long day, and expand your willingness to be open to new concepts.
- Charge your electronic devices such as tape recorders and cameras, etc. (Put phones/mobile devices on vibrate.)
- Make sure you have enough supplies to write with/on. These may be provided at the event, but bring your own, just in case. Have a snack in your briefcase - it’s hard to concentrate when you’re hungry and getting up in the middle of a presentation to access food is disruptive to you and to others.
- Carry a time piece – a watch, mobile device, etc. Show up for lectures on time.
- Wear nametags where they can be seen. Give business cards out freely.
- Engage with speakers and colleagues after/between talks. You’ll be amazed at how many useful ideas and leads you can pick up during informal conversation, and follow up on later.
- Avoid hanging out with your co-workers. Spend this valuable time to learn from other people whom you’ve never met before.
- That said, do plan to spend some quality time with your coworkers, clients, or colleagues with whom you have closer associations. Go for lunch, or a dinner, after the lectures are done for the day. Outside of the office setting, it can be an opportunity to share ideas, revise plans or simply just to bond.
- Visit vendor/service booths if there is a tradeshow. You might alight upon some useful ideas and products to integrate into your practice. As well, this will give you and them an opportunity to chat about what’s new in the profession, fostering cohesiveness between all those elements that keep your practice and profession going.
- Attend the galas and social events, if you can. This is a spectacular opportunity to expand on relationships with those in your field, and those who service your profession.
This is the part that can make the difference between your conference being a success or a waste of time and money.
When the conference/CE event is over, take time to streamline your thoughts regarding what you’re going to implement into your practice, and what is not appropriate for you and/or your team. Helter-skelter, emotional implementation of several ideas, without a game plan in mind, is going to result in their ineffectual introduction and/or confusion regarding protocol among your staff.
If executing a new clinical idea, work out how you’re going to implement it before you try it on your patients. Haphazzard “experimenting” could be dangerous to them, or result in confusing them or “putting them off”.
If applicable, meet with staff to fully inform them of your new actions. Even if it does not impact their routine, per se, it may affect their understanding of what happens in your clinic and how they explain this to patients when asked.
About your staff (if applicable)
If your new strategy requires a change in your staff’s activities, make sure they understand exactly what you want from them, and why. Clarity is the best way to have everyone aligned and supporting clinic focus and goals.
If your staff members were also at the conference, listen to the ideas they have collected, and decide, as a team, which ones might be worth developing into a practice strategy. Give them an opportunity to share new concepts with the group, so that they all can learn from each other’s experience. Be prepared to answer questions and educate them further on your practice and massage therapy in general. These teaching sessions will be invaluable to them and will enhance their experience and cohesion as a clinic team.
Take the opportunity to formally assess the new strategy (as a team, where applicable) after a trial period which you have set. This does two things:
- It allows you to avoid discarding, too soon, something that could be very effective.,
- It avoids dragging on something that you, and/or the team, feel is not working, and gives you an out without anyone feeling as though their ideas were not given their full due.
Choose events carefully and plan how you will harness them thoughtfully. Upon returning to your practice, strategize which ideas you will implement and how. Only with a systemized approach to your continuing education activities will their benefits truly be realized.