Monday, April 22, 2019

Confessions of a First Time Presenter

By Kristin Edwards (@KristinMDCT)

I’ve been attending the Annual Assembly of Hospice and Palliative Care (AAHPM/HPNA) for nearly a decade, but this is the first year I presented a concurrent session. As I return to work, the glow from my 15 minutes of Friday morning fame fading away, I wanted to share a few thoughts for those who, might feel intimidated about submitting an abstract.

An abstract can only be accepted if it is submitted.

I spent years coming up with ideas for a presentation, but ultimately deciding they were not good enough. A trusted mentor encouraged me to submit my ideas anyway. He saw value in the process even if it meant I might get rejected. The process was an opportunity to learn what messages I wanted to share, develop the ideas fully, and receive feedback, thereby refining those messages. That said, only approximately 20% of abstracts are accepted for presentation at the AAHPM’s Assembly, and getting the rejection can sting. It is helpful, therefore, to have an alternate plan beforehand, whether it be submission to a journal, blog, or other conference, or to rework it and submit again in the future.

“I don’t have any collaborators” probably means “I haven’t reached out.”

I often limited myself because I thought I didn’t know anyone in the field with whom to collaborate, and hadn’t considered collaborating with those outside the field. Last year, when I had an idea worthy of submission, I reached out via AAHPM Connect, an online community for those in hospice and palliative medicine, and quickly found several people willing to collaborate. Multiple professional venues provide ways to find potential collaborators, such as list-serves, social media, and collegial networks.

Submitting an abstract with others helps you and your colleagues grow.

One of the most rewarding things in my daily practice is helping others grow, especially across levels of experience, disciplines, or specialties. Collaborating with others on a presentation was a powerful way to get non- PC colleagues exposed to palliative care, early-career colleagues enthusiastic about national involvement, and experienced colleagues invested in mentoring junior colleagues.

Work done in collaboration almost always turns out better.

The initial vision I had for our presentation was adequate, but it was so much better after several rounds of group discussion. Each of us brought a different perspective, skill set, and experience. Far from being limited by people you may worry are “the weakest link,” the presentation was all the more powerful thanks to the diversity of thought and contagious enthusiasm. And we had a lot of fun in the process.

You have something to offer!

Wisdom comes with experience and applied knowledge. Attendees at health care conferences include many who are primarily clinical. You do not need to conduct randomized controlled trials to have a good idea for submission. While scientific studies are critical for advancing our field, there is also value in showing how clinicians have effectively integrated research into clinical practice or created effective models for delivering care.

Presentations honor our patients and renew our compassion.

In palliative care, we learn from the experiences our patients and families generously share with us. When we present at a conference, even if we don’t discuss specific patient stories, we share what our patients have taught us. By sharing those lessons with a broader audience, we may help bring purpose to some of the suffering. We experience renewed compassion when we interact with participants after a presentation, who connect us with others who have similar experiences.

Find a mentor to guide you.

Mentors may have experience navigating implicit expectations for abstract and publication submissions. Mentors may be senior to you and can also be peers; powerful learning goes both ways. I had the great fortune to work with a mentor through the AAHPM Mentor Match program. Mentor Match is an online part of AAHPM where members can find other members willing to be mentors from specific backgrounds or in specific areas. Especially if you have a specific skill to develop, reach out to find a mentor in that area.

Drafting an abstract requires a relatively small investment of time, but comes with so many personal and professional benefits. The personal learning, professional connections, renewed enthusiasm, and growth opportunities are well worth the risk of rejection. So if you have an idea you’ve considered, think about reaching out to your community, get input from others, and take a chance to submit.

The deadline for AAHPM concurrent session abstracts for 2020 is May 1st, 2019.

Kristin Edwards, MD, FAAHPM is the medical director of Palliative Care at Yale New Haven Health - Bridgeport Hospital. Her passion is palliative care, medicine, education, and resilience. You can find her on Twitter at @KristinMDCT.

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