Fellow Talk: Conferences Galore: Why You Should Go, Which One(s) to Choose
It used to be that medical conferences within a specific specialty were limited to 1 or 2 a year. But the cardiology community has been at the forefront of medicine in expanding and producing a portfolio of meetings. I honestly have a difficult time keeping track of them all. A recent Google search revealed thousands of cardiology conferences across the world.
So why do we need all of these? From the general cardiology fellow standpoint, they provide varied exposure to all of the different subspecialties. Apart from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) annual meetings, several conferences are subspecialty specific and may help nurture budding electrophysiologists, cardiovascular imagers, or interventionalists.
Regardless of the specific type, each meeting is an opportunity to network with peers from different institutions, meet prospective mentors, interact with experts, and understand how continuing medical education (CME) can be used to accomplish academic and professional goals. Secondly, fellows can pick and choose conferences according to work and family schedules. Thirdly, most cardiology conferences are multifocal in nature. For example, the agenda for ACC 2015 lists multiple learning pathways on ACS, electrophysiology, imaging, heart failure, preventions, and more. Some of these run concurrently, so attendees need to decide where to focus.
To entertain several interests, fellows can attend multiple conferences and stagger pathway choices among them. For example, within interventional conferences—like Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT), Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI), and Cardiovascular Research Technologies (CRT)—there are coronary, peripheral, and structural tracks. Fellows could do coronary at the first, peripheral at the next, and structural in the third to cover all the bases.
What about planning a schedule? The first and foremost thing to remember is to be productive in research. Most training programs will fund a fellow to attend a conference if he or she is presenting research, especially if the abstract is selected to be an oral presentation. Something that worked for me was to submit an abstract immediately after the study analysis was complete. This way, by the time the manuscript was finalized, I had the opportunity to discuss my research in an international arena and get pointers from experts before actually submitting the manuscript.
Here is my step-by-step guide on how trainees can maximize their educational and networking experience at conferences:
First-Year General Cardiology: Due to a steep learning curve, the fellow should aim to attend 1 national conference (apart from local chapters). The AHA Scientific Sessions might be better suited for fellows who have their research projects wrapped up in their final year of residency, since the conference is usually held in the fall with submission deadlines in the spring. ACC, held in the spring, is best suited for those at early stages in their research, as submission deadlines are often around November. While both meetings have similar multifocal learning pathways, the ACC’s Fellows in Training (FIT) council has planned more fellow-relevant activities—like boot camps, jeopardy, FIT forum sessions, and meet and greets—whereas AHA tends to give better exposure to professionals interested in basic science, translational research, and stroke care.
Second-Year General Cardiology: Fellows who chose ACC in the first year may opt for AHA this year and vice versa. Also, this would be a good time to plan conferences based on future professional aspirations and interests.
Third-Year General Cardiology: In addition to the aforementioned meetings, third-year fellows should now focus on subspecialty conferences related to the advanced fellowship they plan to pursue. Prospective interventional fellows should focus on:
Interventional Cardiology Fellows Courses: Though these courses are traditionally designed for current interventional fellows, they provide an excellent review of topics within the field in a boot camp style that would benefit the prospective interventional fellow. The Cardiovascular Research Foundation’s Fellows Course allows third-year fellows to attend the annual May symposium if slots are available.
Annual Interventional Meetings: TCT, SCAI, and CRT are the 3 national meetings that general fellows can target during their final year. Focusing on the coronary tracks within these conferences will help prepare attendees for the first year of interventional fellowship. CRT is unique in that it has an extensive and systematic schedule for individual hands-on simulation time for many interventional devices.
Interventional Cardiology Fellowship: At this point, fellows should be attending at least 1 interventional conference—TCT, SCAI, or CRT. Each of these conferences provides excellent educational and networking opportunities. Fellows signed up for 1-year programs should focus on peripheral and coronary intervention at their first meeting and then try to catch up with structural didactics at a second meeting. For those continuing into advanced structural fellowships, choosing 1 pathway per conference is the way to go. These are the meetings to attend:
TCT: This large-scale meeting has huge attendance and significant international exposure. Also, registration is waived for fellows.
SCAI C3 Summit for Interventional FITs: This meeting is more fellow oriented in that it usually has a day of dedicated case-based education for fellows. It also provides scholarships for fellows to attend.
CRT: Similar to TCT/SCAI, this meeting has unique simulation-based learning sessions designed to introduce newer procedures to fledgling interventional cardiologists.
CRF/SCAI Fellows courses: These should always be revisited for assimilating interventional knowledge, especially since textbook reading is at nadir during the earlier half of interventional training.
Device company courses: For fellows who plan to use certain devices in future practice, these courses can be excellent tools.
SCAI TRIP: Considering the push for wider acceptance of radial access as the preferred mode of catheterization, interventional fellows should try to attend this conference in order to fine-tune their radial skills.
Valve summits/CTO and LM summits/CLI courses: Participation should be based on an individual’s goals and interests.