5 mistakes doctors make when attending conferences

We share how to make the most of events this season and avoid these common mistakes doctors make when attending conferences.

Mistakes Doctors Make When Attending Conferences

Conference season is one of the best opportunities for professionals to expand their networks, access cutting edge knowledge, and even get inspiration to make that much needed career change.

Much of our work at Medic Footprints is to encourage networking and engagement to facilitate career opportunities for doctors – an activity that isn’t usually innate to your average clinical doctor.

For most doctors, attending conferences is largely an educational experience, and a great opportunity to get away from the wards; however there is less preparation on how these events can transform your steps to opportunities one previously thought was out of reach.

Having organised and promoted over 100 events ourselves (including 3 large face to face, and one even larger online conference) we thought we’d make a list of the common mistakes doctors make when attending conferences – and how to avoid them – making sure that if you’re headed to some events this season, you get your return on investment.

Mistakes Doctors Make When Attending Conferences

Doctors aren’t clear on why they’re attending a conference

Conferences aren’t really supposed to be a passive exercise. Remember that conferences are only as good as you make them. They can either be a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow or a draining and exhausting waste of time, study allowances and money.

If you see doctors who hide in their conference brochures, leave mid afternoon and/or only talk to people they know – they probably either got a free ticket or using it as a day away from.. something.

How to avoid being that doctor?

Make sure you identify your goals and objectives for attending conferences. Be it as a work requirement, for personal development or for career growth. This will not only help you make the most of conferences you attend, but also guide your selection of what conferences and sessions to attend to help you realise your objectives. 

Got a free pass so it doesn’t really matter? Of course it does – think of all the other things you could be investing your time in!

Doctors fail to plan and schedule beforehand

At our conferences, we give as much information about the session to our delegates in advance and even pre-book some of these.

Why? So we know our delegates know what to expect during the session and are as prepared as the speaker is. This makes a great session – especially the ones where our prime focus is Q&As.

So, our advice is once you know what your objectives are, plan and schedule. Preferably do this at least a week before the event itself if you can.

You will need to start checking conference objectives and agendas, registering, selecting key sessions to attend, reading about the speakers and planning your travel and accommodation.

It is advisable at this stage to start reaching out to key people that you may want to speak to at the conference and start scheduling meetings. 

We believe that all doctors should have an elevator pitch.

What are you passionate about?

“I’m just a junior doctor.” or “I’m only a part time GP” sells yourself short before people have even gotten beneath the surface. And it’s not really a good reflection of who are are as a whole.

“I’m exploring ways to further develop my skills in [X sector] because I’m passionate about how I can use this to transform the patient experience”

“I’m starting up a company which provides a bespoke laundry service for busy medics. I started this because I found I had no time to do this myself. Do you ever have that problem?”

Practice your elevator pitch beforehand, any presentations you may have to do and prepare your business cards and materials if you have any. (Yes.. have something that you can quickly and easily swap details with – or at least have a LinkedIn profile where people can find you!)

Remember, people buy into you and your stories.

Doctors fail to fully participate during the conference

Mistakes Doctors Make When Attending Conferences

While many of us may get excited about the events and travel opportunities conference season brings, the truth is, attending or presenting at a conference can be intimidating for the best of us.

The real truth is .. everyone finds it intimidating.

The organisers, the speakers, the delegates, even the venue staff. Speaking to strangers can be tricky at first – and most doctors aren’t always the best conversation starters beyond “What’s your specialty?”

Oh, and asking questions during a session is perhaps one of the most daunting. Dare you draw attention to yourself!

In fact – asking questions during a session is a fantastic way to network – if done right.

Our advice is put your phone and laptop away (unless you’re tweeting about the event)! Be present. Take notes. Ask questions – each one structured with you introducing yourself at the beginning and what you do. Attend organised social events. Exchange business cards – (yes, that tricky business card again!).

Talk to the person sitting next to you – startups and new job opportunities are frequently made that way!

Be a great listener. Helping others can help you create more opportunities for yourself.

Remember your objectives and implement it. Whether it is to deliver a sales pitch, to seek career opportunities or to tell the story of your brand, go out and do it.

We also recommend sharing your experience on social media whilst you’re there. Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram are the best platforms to do this (in order). It’s another great way to network, and the conference organisers will personally thank you in helping them spread the word!

Doctors fail to connect with speakers 

In every conference, the speakers and panelists are often the industry experts, and therefore the people you need and want to know in order to expand your network.

We observe that at most conferences or events, most delegates choose to sit at the back. Perhaps to make sure they don’t get seen, or can get on with work stuff quietly, escape early or don’t get questioned –  like in school days perhaps.

If you want to get the most out of a session or connect directly with a speaker our number one tip is: sit at the front.

Sitting at the front will enable you to be seen by the speaker, get your questions answered and allow you to be first in the queue for personal introductions when the session is over.

Do not be afraid to connect with them even before the conference. Follow and share their social media and research, this will be a great conversation starter.

If there is no time to have all your questions answered or the post event speaker queue is too long, ask for a business card or say you’ll connect with them on LinkedIn and reach out to them after the conference.

They’re more likely to remember you and follow-up if you seem particularly keen! They’re there to network – just like you.

Doctors fail to share and follow up after the conference

Mistakes Doctors Make When Attending Conferences

No matter how small, large, short or seemingly invaluable the event; you still invested your time in what counts as Continuing Professional Development, which in most cases you can self-certify (even if it’s not medical!)

Therefore don’t forget to summarise what you learned – in your reflections or CPD which will be valuable portfolio padding over time. Your appraisal will thank you.

Most doctors tend to pack up all materials and forget key lessons once we are done with the conferences. So ensure you deliberately note your highlights down. 

Write a presentation (lots of pictures are always best) for your workplace, team or department, or discuss with friends at the conference about key take-away points. (More CPD points!)

Remember to also consolidate your business cards and send thank you emails within the next 72 hrs and let people know you enjoyed meeting them. This is a great time to set up phone calls or meet ups with people you met at the conference.

Finally, make a point to share your newly acquired skills and knowledge with your colleagues. Send out videos of sessions you took, give a talk about something you learnt or share important contacts. 

Did we miss any common mistakes doctors make when attending conferences?


For more advice on networking for doctors, check out this video

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Abeyna Bubbers-Jones

Abeyna is the Founder & Director of Medic Footprints and a Consultant Physician in Occupational Health