Diving for pearls: Finding key takeaways at your next conference

By Debra J. Wiggs, FACMPE, past MGMA Board chair
October 3, 2017
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When I was little, it was sometimes difficult for me to pay attention to the sermon during church. My dad asked me to find just one thing that I didn’t know, and could learn from what I heard. That strategy gave me a challenge. As a student, I adapted that concept when I needed to pay full attention in class, yet my mind frequently wanted to wander elsewhere.

As an adult attending professional conferences, I know it is important to network and that helpful pearls of wisdom can be found in each seminar, break-out or plenary session. So, I go back to my childhood strategy and make a short list of things that I search for during every conference I attend.

Nowadays, cell phones and email make it so easy to wander back, mentally, to what is happening at the office or in the hospital. Yet, this investment of time at a conference or seminar is important, and validates the expense. So, for the cost of travel, registration fees and the outlay of time, when I dive into each conference session, I have committed to return-to-the-surface after experiencing three separate “aha!” moments. These insights represent three important pearls to strengthen my professional arsenal.   

Affirmation: I call it the pat-on-the-back moment. It’s important to toot your own horn on the things that you know you’re doing right in your daily work. For example, you could attend a session in which the speaker confirms that your strategy on Quality Payment Program implementation is spot-on. You could return to your staff with this message: “Hey, at this conference it confirmed we’re doing an amazing job on this. They validated that for me.” Look for those things that affirm what you are doing well. It will go a long way to sustain you.

Inspiration: Sometimes at a conference, I want you to experience a lightbulb moment. It is energizing to discover access to people and/or resources to realize an effective solution to a problem or broken process. This would be reflected when you say, “I can see the value proposition at my organization, or “I have access to those who can help me find the monies, other resources to make this happen. I’m excited to go do this.” Or, “Wow, I did not know that — I can go back to the office, implement this strategy and my team will be heroes.”

Conviction: I call it the kick-in-the-butt moment. There is always an issue back at the office that everyone has been tip-toeing around or a project or activity that all avoid with dread. At each conference, look for an opportunity to say, “Dang, I’ve got this very issue at my organization. I know it needs to get done.” It’s that conviction that something has not been dealt with and that now is the time to return with the tools and know-how to get it done. I want you to have the feeling of gratitude for having been shown the way, knowing that a chronic issue or task will be addressed immediately.

In each of these three areas, one of the best ways to make this strategy successful is to connect with people who will hold you accountable through information, affirmation or with a solution. That is what the peer group is for in the session you’re attending. Take advantage of the opportunity in a safe environment to ask questions and be vulnerable.

In turn, realize that you are also able to be part of that solution for other conference attendees. In the area of affirmation, where you know you and your team are doing something right, be a leader for others who are seeking inspiration and conviction. Be a part of the solution and pay it forward for someone, as has been done for you.

Adopting this strategy often pays for the cost of conference attendance. The things you learn will save or earn your organization real dollars. Your takeaways can prevent you from incurring wasteful costs or even help you discover a new revenue stream.

Everyone knows there is a six-foot-tall pile of papers or an inbox of hundreds of unread emails after a conference. If you dive into your next conference searching for these pearls of wisdom, you may very well return with a set of valuable takeaways to make the investment of time worth it, paying dividends for you and your organization.

Diving for pearls at MGMA17

Debra Wiggs will lead a session — “Transformation Super Powers: Creating a Culture of Critical Thinking,” on critical thinking skills for leaders in healthcare — at the MGMA 2017 Annual Conference on Oct. 10 in Anaheim, Calif. Her colleague Nancy Babbitt, FACMPE, MGMA member, founder and transformationist, VSV Management Solutions, also will speak during an Oct. 10 session — “Experience is Everything,” featuring 10 ways to engage practice staff to improve the patient experience — alongside Alisa Vaughn, CMPE, MGMA member, practice manager, Dawson Pediatrics, Dawsonville, Ga.

Debra J. Wiggs, FACMPE, past MGMA Board chair, founder, transformationist, V2V Management Solutions

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