From across the Atlantic: making the most of your conference trip as an international delegate

Approximately 30-40% of AHA Scientific session attendees are from outside of the United States. Taking a couple (or more!) of flights, landing in a new city after a 23-hour trip from across the Atlantic and functioning at optimum levels during a meeting of such magnitude may well be a formidable task, particularly when it’s a short trip and you want to get the most of it.

While each person has their own mechanisms of adapting, here’s some derived from my relatively short experience:

Optimize the long flight hours: I personally feel that sleep makes for the finest use of flight time, particularly on long-haul flights and red-eyes. There are others, however, who might opt to use this time to fine-tune presentations and prepare points for posters. A good rest in flight also helps you adapt and combat jetlag optimally, allowing you to function at maximum efficiency.

Get the mundane things over with: Make sure you’ve sorted (and preferably pre-paid for) accommodation, figured out airport to hotel commutes, activated international roaming allowing for sufficient data/connectivity and downloaded offline maps of the city, just in case. Accommodation within walking distance to meeting location is convenient, allowing for a later wake-up (if you’re not an early riser like yours truly!) but most importantly obviating the need for figuring out taxis/ tube maps/traffic navigation when you’re very likely to be in a rush.

Pack light but pack smart: International transfers can be unpredictable; I always factor in lost/delayed bags and pack an entire day’s conference wardrobe into my hand luggage. The importance of comfortable shoes cannot be understated, especially if you’re trying to do a superspeed Flash act between meeting rooms. I also carry a large bag at meetings, one that would accommodate a fully-charged laptop and power banks, phone charger with universal adapter (absolute essential!) and a light jacket for a cold meeting room. Also, any additional space is more than welcome for journals and other print material you might pick up.

Plan your itinerary right: Basically, be in the room where it happens. Even with the most efficient meeting app, chances are you’ll have multiple overlapping sessions bookmarked. Keeping in mind the genre of sessions one might not always have access to back home, I would opt to attend late-breaking science, live cases and interactive sessions by experts, over, say, seminars and updates on more general topics.

Use social media: It’s a formidable accessory to derive the maximum conference experience. Apart from the obvious pluses of rapid access to scientific content and networking, a twitter update might even alert you to a session you intended on attending but somehow missed bookmarking.

Avail opportunities for networking: Most of conference science can now be accessed online post-conference but, one cannot put a price to the value of face-to-face networking or comparing notes with peers from across the globe, potentially even leading to collaborations. And let’s not forget the opportunities to literally pick on the brains of global experts at dedicated sessions, such as those offered at the FIT lounge.

It’s not all about the science: Make use of the additional programming. The Women in Science mentor-mentee session I had Saturday morning with Dr Noel Bairey Merz, even before I attended my first scientific session, provided a wonderful opportunity to discuss research and career with a prominent woman in cardiology (WIC).

Take breaks: Go to exhibition halls and training pavilions; If you’re super-saturated with all the scientific content, visiting booths at exhibit halls are actually a great way to take a breather, caffeinate, pick-up some new literature or check out the new tech.

Get involved: At various levels in one’s career, there are many ways international members can get involved, perhaps by joining one of the AHA’s 16 scientific councils, for a start. The Early Career Blogging program is a fantastic project: apart from the remarkable learning and networking opportunities it affords, you can’t beat the incredible perks of front row seats at the Presidential Session, including a performance by the cast of Hamilton!!

Embrace the different perspectives but apply them locally: While these meetings provide the international attendee a much-needed global perspective on a variety of aspects pertaining to cardiology, it’s also equally important to appropriately apply what you learn, taking into account local culture and tailoring it to the norms of practice back home.

Enjoy the break from work: Last but not least, even with the busiest of itineraries, international meetings offer what can sometimes be much-needed downtime and a break from work. There is no joy like that of exploring a new city, so even if it means taking an extra half day, use that “me” time to good effect. Carpe diem!



The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.