ATTENDING TWO CONFERENCES last spring rekindled my enthusiasm for nursing. I was excited about what I'd learned, the people I'd met, and the synergy of attendees and presenters. In my opinion, attending a conference is the most enjoyable method for gleaning lots of information in just 1 day, weekend, or week. To advance evidence-based practice and to improve patient care and outcomes, nurses of all levels need to participate in the dialogue and findings shared at conferences.
For these reasons, I want to encourage every clinical nurse, nurse educator, nurse administrator, nurse researcher, and nursing student to plan to attend at least one conference in the next 12 months. This article examines why and explains how you can find the conference that best meets your needs.
You can enhance your own professional development when you learn something new, and conferences are one of the best ways to hear about recent advancements in nursing practice. Articles in a journal may be based on research conducted months or even years ago. Research study results presented at a conference may be so recent that they haven't been published yet.
For clinical nurses, a conference provides one avenue for learning about current practice changes occurring at other facilities. Nurses making evidence-based changes may share those findings at a conference first. A conference lets nurses hear about recent changes directly and ask the presenters questions.
Attending conferences can also benefit nurse educators. At two conferences I attended this year, I learned about strategies to improve NCLEX pass rates. One school has discovered success on Health Education Systems, Inc., scores by implementing team-based learning.1 At another institution, nurse educators have improved NCLEX pass rates over the past 3 years through an intensive postbaccalaureate preparation course, at a time when other schools were struggling.2 These successful educational strategies may not be in print anytime soon; they may not ever be published. Instead, they may appear in the grey literature: These studies with more limited distribution, such as dissertations or unpublished reports, can be difficult to locate.3 Only by attending a conference can you encounter such recent success stories.
Nursing students and nurse researchers might be interested in learning about successful instruments and theories. Clinical nurses may be excited to hear of an instrument that helps detect depression or anxiety or measures quality of life. Identifying instruments used successfully at another institution or in a research study could lead to a practice change at your institution and could even help you move up a rung on the clinical ladder. A conference attendee could also learn about grants or other applicable funding mechanisms.
Many conference participants experience personal growth because of time spent in a new environment rich with people and information. Interacting with established and new colleagues and engaging with a stimulating environment can lead to personal growth.
You may experience the fun of discovering a long-lost colleague at a conference. But why leave it to chance? You can contact old friends beforehand and encourage them to meet you there. Or you could invite a colleague to attend a conference of mutual interest. When traveling with friends or colleagues, you can share the costs of the hotel room or mileage as well as renew your friendship or get better acquainted.
Besides interacting with people you know in the new environment of the conference, be sure to converse with people you don't know as well. Because everyone at the conference has some overlapping interests, many of the attendees are good sources of information for new teaching or research strategies.
At one regional conference where I presented a poster, I didn't know any of the other faculty members, so I took the opportunity to meet new people at mealtimes. As I interacted with a fellow conference attendee at a national conference, I discovered that she was the clinical editor of a nursing journal who needed expert peer reviewers. I gave her my contact information and am now part of that review team.
While attending a conference, you'll take a break from your daily routine and can try new things. For example, rise early to participate in a morning yoga class, swim in the hotel pool, use the exercise equipment, or stroll the streets of a new city.
If you're sold on attending a conference, your next task is to choose one.
Choosing a conference might be the toughest decision of the entire process. First, compare your interests to the purpose or focus of various conferences. Then consider the depth of the conference, or its nature. Is it local, regional, national, or global? Each category has important distinctions.
- Local conferences generally provide practical strategies to improve some element of your professional or personal life. At a conference within my city limits, presenters offered concrete suggestions and examples to promote self-care among health educators with busy lives. These conferences may occur within your institution or a neighboring one. Local conferences offer an excellent opportunity to hear national speakers and discuss their ideas with your colleagues. They give you the chance to meet people in your community with whom you might work directly.
- Regional and state conferences engage like-minded professionals from more diverse backgrounds than those at a local conference. While it can be intimidating to step outside of your institution for a conference, you're likely to encounter people with whom you could make helpful connections. Regional conferences generally provide more depth of knowledge than local conferences, so more seasoned nurses might consider venturing in this direction, especially if they want to expand beyond local conferences.
- National and global conferences offer exciting opportunities for nurses to share information across many specialties and cultures.4 As such, they offer wonderful possibilities for professional and personal growth.
Another consideration is the amount of time you have. Local conferences are generally short, 1 or 2 days, while regional conferences may be 2 to 4 days, and national or global conferences may last 3 to 6 days. You can explore conferences at every level to gain information as your needs change.
While I enjoy attending national conferences with a broad array of topics, some of my colleagues prefer specialty conferences focusing on narrower topics, such as pediatric nursing. Look around and choose your preference.
Specialty topic. If you're a clinical nurse or NP, look for a conference that specializes in your area of interest. Some examples include conferences organized by the National Association of School Nurses, Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, and American Psychiatric Nurses. Other examples include the Annual Clinical Symposium on Advances in Skin & Wound Care, and Pediatric Nursing Conference. Nurse educators could consider conferences at the state level and those organized by the National League for Nursing or the International Nurse Education Conference.
Nursing research. Clinical nurses, nurse researchers, and nursing students interested in research could consider any of the conferences already mentioned as well as those listed in the sidebar box, Nursing research conferences. NPs may be interested in attending a local or national conference hosted by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
Interdisciplinary conferences include those organized by groups such as the American Heart Association and American Public Health Association, or organized around a topic such as the Alzheimer's Association Annual Dementia Conference. Some broader conferences for nurses that aren't limited to specialties include the Worldwide Nursing Conference, those organized by state nurses associations, and, of course, various conferences at the state and national level hosted by the American Nurses Association.
Do some soul-searching to consider the topic, accessibility, and availability of conferences. Even if you feel that the choices are overwhelming, just select one conference and attend—no matter how long you've been in (or out of) the field.
Rising to meet challenges
Attending a conference can be expensive, with registration ranging from $200 to $700. Local conferences are generally less expensive to attend because you don't have to pay for hotel and travel. Some organizations hosting conferences or conventions provide scholarship information on their website.5 Don't be afraid to ask your organization if money is available for conference registration and housing.
Some administrators encourage employees to attend conferences by providing some financial incentives such as registration fees. At a recent state conference, I realized that the newly elected officers were marketing their respective institutions. Remind your administrators that when we can get out of our institutions and into the community, we increase the visibility of the institution, possibly attracting new clients. You can make a strong case for institutional reimbursement for conference attendance.
To cut down on expenses and avoid having to pay for a flight, start with a conference within about 300 miles of your home. Saving some money every month for the annual event is another strategy for success. Some of the expenses of attending a conference are tax-deductible, so save your receipts for hotel, meals, tips, and travel for tax season.
Making the most of a conference
If you attend a presentation that doesn't meet your expectations, find a chair away from the activity and relax for a moment. You might strike up a conversation with another conference attendee or check your e-mail on a conference computer. Return to the presentations and visit the posters, and you're likely to come away with some kernel of new knowledge.
Be sure to visit some of the other landmarks in the area—the restaurants, a museum, the theater, or a park. Then head back to the conference for another session.
Focus on renewal
Attending a conference doesn't just benefit the profession and your patients. It's a form of renewal for yourself and your career. After 10 years of attending conferences, I haven't gotten tired of the energy, synergy, and excitement that I get from them.
Nursing research conferences
Contact these organizations for information about their conferences:
- Western Institute of Nursing (WIN)http://www.winursing.org
- Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS)http://www.mnrs.org
- Eastern Nursing Research Society (ENRS)http://www.enrs-go.org
- Southern Nursing Research Society (SNRS)http://www.snrs.org
- The Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science (CANS)http://www.nursingscience.org
- Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursinghttp://www.nursingsociety.org.