Residents’ Guide to Attending a National Plastic Surgery Conference

by Jordan Frey, MD and Rajendra Sawh-Martinez

Attending a major conference in plastic surgery for the first, or the millionth, time can be an exciting but daunting undertaking. Nearly every resident can recall going to his or her first meeting and feeling both amazed and overwhelmed upon realizing that you are in a Mecca of plastic surgery. A quick glance at the meeting schedule reveals innumerable simultaneous lectures from the world’s most prominent experts in the field, all seemingly more interesting than the next. On top of coming up with your educational agenda, you have to find a way to juggle preparing presentations, meeting with colleagues, old friends and new contacts, as well as, of course, having fun…and all of this to fit in just a few days. Luckily, we are here to give you some strategies and advice for navigating the exhilarating world of major plastic surgery meetings!

Our advice is to start early and try to target attending a few select meetings every year. If you are new to the conference game, we recommend starting with each year’s Plastic Surgery The Meeting hosted by ASPS. While some residencies may pay for senior residents to attend certain conferences, the first step in attending any major meeting, especially as a junior resident, is to get a presentation accepted. Most residencies will reimburse costs associated with a resident attending a conference if they are giving an oral presentation at that conference. Keep in mind though that the annual ASPS conference has free registration for all residents!

Meet with your research advisors, develop your projects into abstracts, and submit, submit, submit to as many meetings as you can that fit your research and career interests. This will give you the opportunity to not only attend these fantastic conferences, but also to share your work. If you are lucky enough to present at a meeting, be sure to practice your talks and follow a prior blog post with tips for delivering a top-line abstract presentation (https://prsresidentchronicles.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/how-to-give-a-great-research-abstract-presentation/).

Book your travel and hotel arrangements early. Conferences will often have deals with the hotel hosting the meeting (or the one closest to the meeting). Try to book your room at this hotel (they will fill up early), as it will make traveling to and from the conference much easier. Some conferences will also offer discounted airline rates. Try to arrive as early as you can to attend any meeting receptions or galas.

After booking travel, the next step is deciding how you are going to spend your time. Most conferences will have multiple educational sessions and abstract presentations proceeding simultaneously, meaning you will have to make some tough decisions regarding what you will be able to see. Take the 2015 ASPS meeting, how do you choose between hearing Dr. Stuzin and Dr. Hamra discuss facial rejuvenation or attending a “Thunderdome” session on alloplastic breast reconstruction hosted by a panel of experts?

Get your hands on the educational schedule early, either online, in the meeting book, or even on the meetings App! This way you can see everything that is offered and develop your personal schedule. Many meeting apps send you alerts and holds your schedule, so be sure to download it if available. Prioritize what most interests you, as well as what is most applicable to your current training. We recommend making sure to attend the more informal, fun, and uniquely designed sessions such as the “Iron Surgeon” session at Plastic Surgery The Meeting. Here, a panel of experts offers their “secret ingredient,” which is a special tip or trick used in a clinical case, with the best presenter being deemed that year’s Iron Surgeon.

For those who like a little more structure to their schedule, ASPS offers residents the opportunity to apply for the Grand Rounds Mentor Program where an attending will guide a group of residents through an educational curriculum in a certain track, such as reconstructive or craniofacial surgery, at the meeting. Keep in mind that you will also want to attend resident abstract sessions both to keep abreast of the most recent research developments in the field and to support your fellow residents!  ASPS and the Young Plastic Surgeons Committee also host “Resident’s Day” which is an entire curriculum geared towards resident issues and perspectives to maximize your success out of residency.  Many meetings host similarly geared events/discussions, which are invaluable to developing your knowledge and network.

Each conference will have special courses offered for a fee. Taught by the field’s absolute experts and usually populated by attending surgeons, getting into one or more of these courses is an unparalleled experience. While residents may not be reimbursed for these associated costs, there are other ways to get in. At the annual ASPS meeting, residents may join in on any unfilled course offered in the program, for free! Check in with the course’s meeting staff near the start time to see if there is any extra space to take advantage of this great opportunity.

National society conferences will hold their business and committee meetings simultaneously at the conference you may be attending.  Often, any member is able to audit or sit-in on these meetings.  Exploring this possibility may open up a new understanding of how societies function, possible resident involvement in leadership committees and an expanded network with the leadership in your area of interest.  This is certainly the case at Plastic Surgery The Meeting, where residents are welcome to audit any open committee meeting. Advocating for your patients and your profession on the national stage is an important aspect of how you can be involved with shaping our specialty while attending an educational conference!

Similarly, a society’s main journal is often present at these meetings and reaching out can lead to tremendous opportunities! The Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal always has a big presence at ASPS, and is always on the lookout for talented residents interested in being involved with new initiatives!  Residents are encouraged to visit, exchange their information, and explore ways to get involved.

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Every meeting will also offer forums to mingle with other attendees in a more social atmosphere. Meeting receptions and galas are often included in the price of registration and are always well attended. Many institutions also hold “reunions” at meetings for past and present residents and attendings to reacquaint and catch up. We recommend always making an effort to attend these events. Spend time with residents and attendings from your home institution but also take advantage of the chance to branch out and meet as many new people as you can. Plastic surgery is a small world and you will find yourself seeing many of the same individuals at various annual conferences. Some of the connections that you make at these events will follow you throughout your entire career.

As you meet new friends from around the country, and around the world, be sure to stay in touch!  Make sure you get business cards or contact information, and foster these friendships with fellow residents and attendings.  Quick updates, greetings, or well-wishes after conferences help solidify the connections you made when you are all gathered.  National meetings are often where reputations are attained and relationships solidified.  You never know when a chance encounter at a national meeting can turn into a job offer or the development of new, unforeseen opportunities.   For senior residents, attending Plastic Surgery The Meeting is often regarded as the forum to meet and interview with possible employment opportunities around the country.  These require prior contact and arrangement, but since everyone is in one place, you can explore many options in a short amount of time!

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Last, but not least, remember to have fun. Plastic surgery is an amazing field that requires an impressive breadth of expertise. Conferences are the perfect place for residents to experience all that plastic surgery has to offer and to develop your own personal interests, all shared with your peers and the field’s experts in an educational and social environment. We look forward to seeing you there!

Key Tips and Checklist:
•    Start Exploring Meeting Options Early and Submit your Research
•    Book your travel and accommodations EARLY!
•    Download The Meeting App and Plan your Schedule
•    Explore the ‘Residents Day’ or Resident’s focus of a meeting
•    Attend conference networking events
•    Set up meetings/interviews ahead of time
•    Follow up with friends and faculty after the meeting

List of Major Plastic Surgery Research Meetings:
•    ASPS – Plastic Surgery The Meeting: http://bit.ly/1MwI7Ep
•    AAPS – American Association of Plastic Surgeons: http://www.aaps1921.org
•    PSRC – Plastic Surgery Research Council:  http://www.ps-rc.org
•    AAHS – American Association of Hand Surgery:  http://handsurgery.org
•    ASPN – American Society for Peripheral Nerve: http://www.peripheralnerve.org
•    ASRM – American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery:  http://www.microsurg.org/events/meetings/
•    ASPS Aesthetica: http://bit.ly/1APRBRo

For the full International Clearinghouse of all Plastic Surgery Meetings visit:
http://www.plasticsurgery.org/for-medical-professionals/resources-and-education/meetings/international-clearinghouse-of-meetings-calendar.html

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