Let’s just face it…I’m a conference geek! From my previous career in higher ed student affairs to now, I’ve thrived on attending conferences: the sessions, the networking, the energy… I could go on and on about what I LOVE about conferences!
So attending the ASHA Health Care and Business Institute was a no-brainer! Especially since it was in Phoenix, which meant no travel and hotel costs. I’ve attended ASHA’s national convention for four years now, but this was my first HCBI and as I write this blog on Sunday night, I’m 100 percent certain it won’t be my last.
As I reflect on the conference and the three days that flew by here are some things that left an impression:
1. No overflow rooms to worry about! While I love the hustle and bustle of the national convention, the smaller size and more focused topic tracks at HCBI left me feeling like I had soaked in a lot more knowledge, and with ideas I could implement come Monday morning. Sessions were the right size, allowing speakers to delve deep, cover research and practice, while still leaving time for questions. It also allowed for more personal interactions with names you probably only read in journals and textbooks before, and opportunities for new friendships because you sat with many of the same clinicians from one session to another. Many sessions were a two-part series which helped broaden the knowledge base, and you could really immerse yourself into a topic if you so wished. I’ve been talking about topic tracks for years and was so excited to finally experience it at HCBI. I wasn’t running around between sessions trying get a piece here and a piece there and oh look! Three sessions I want to go to are all the same time. Nope! Not at HCBI.
2. Take risks and know you’re supported! After waiting anxiously to hear if my submission was accepted, I was ecstatic to read the poster acceptance email. And just as quickly, I became nervous! I’m presenting a poster at a conference full of highly experienced researchers and clinicians! What if I mess up? The experience was quite the opposite. Clinicians of varied experience levels stopped by, asked questions, appreciated the work my colleague and I had done, and even discussed future collaborations. I was thrilled when a presenter stopped by and asked if she could use the information in her class! This was the experience of a lifetime! Presenting to a more focused audience wasn’t as intimidating after all – we were in this together, trying to make a difference in areas we were all passionate about. Having only 11 posters was a great way to spend quality time reading, assimilating and asking questions.
3. There’s more to the conference than meets the eye! Yes, there’s information to learn and CEUs to earn, but for me, no conference is complete without the behind-the-scenes activities. Since I was local, I reached out to the SIG 13 volunteer coordinator to see if there was anything I could help with. Through a series of events, I ended up introducing some speakers and writing this blog post! I’ve been meaning to rekindle my love for blogging and, let’s be honest … never made time for it. Thanks to HCBI I may actually achieve that goal after all! I’ve also been trying to initiate the Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing application process and was seeking out a mentor. Serendipitously, the speaker I introduced was the very same person I was hoping to connect with. Within moments the wheels were set into motion and my journey has begun. You never know what doors can open unless you knock, and conferences are the perfect opportunity to get more involved in our profession.
Special mentions: No conference blog would be complete without a shout-out to my #slpeeps family! From my first convention in San Diego till lunch this afternoon, there was never a moment when I felt like there wasn’t someone to talk to, someone to discuss successes and challenges with, enjoy a meal or happy hour with …. the value of social media and how small and connected it makes our world! Conferences like this are like family reunions. As much as I love everything I learned about exercise-based dysphagia treatments, pediatric gastroesophageal reflux, managing emotions and interpersonal relationships, and all the ideas that sparked this weekend, the conference would not be the same without these social connections that comfort, support and inspire!
Here’s to more bright ideas … more sparks of knowledge … more creative collaborations! See you in Minneapolis for #HCBI16. Until then, shine on!
Ramya Kumar, MS, CCC-SLP, is a hospital-based speech-language pathologist specializing in pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. She also works in adult acute-care settings. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. Follow her on Twitter at @thatspeechy.