As some of you may be aware, I started my professional career as a journalist, more specifically a sportswriter for several small to mid-sized newspapers across the United States. I had a reputation for asking hard-hitting, no-holds-barred questions. Like these:
“Coach, why did you decide to call for a quarterback draw on 4th-and-20 down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter?”
“Player X, seeing as how your team lost tonight’s game to your biggest rival by 30 points, do you regret staying out at the bars drinking until 2 am last night?”
How the Pulitzer committee overlooked my journalistic contributions continue to baffle me (if you have any sway over the voters, feel free to put in a good word for me).
I’m often asked by people if I miss daily journalism. My truthful answer is, “No, not really.” And it’s true. There are lots of things I don’t miss – the hours, the pay, the people (some of them). But I do miss the interviewing – being curious about something and getting the answers that satisfied my curiosity, and hopefully the curiosity of people who read the newspaper as well. These days, I get to do interviewing in some capacity every so often as part of my regular job when I have to talk to course faculty about something related to the goings on in their area of specialty, but it’s rare that I’m really super interested in the topic.
So when I saw recently that Primary Care Network (PCN) was planning on having a true, in-person live event next month in Hilton Head, SC, I figured it was time to dig out my “Scoop Kober” fedora (note from Derek: [rolls eyes]) and get some answers to the numerous questions I had on my mind. Jill Hays, Executive Director of PCN (yes, they are one of the many CMEpalooza sponsors this fall) was gracious enough to agree to an interview.
Here is the edited transcript of our conversation:
OK, so, um ,why? (I told you I ask the best questions!)
Our last live program was in March in Las Vegas right before everything kind of exploded with COVID. Even with that program, we got lots of phone calls where people were concerned, their employers weren’t allowing travel, but we still went ahead and did that program.
Not long after that is when things really hit hard, and we rescheduled all of our planned summer programs for next year. So that left Hilton Head, which was in September. At the time, we said, “Well, let’s see what happens,” and we held off on making any decisions for a few months. We were in close contact with the hotel, and they were very flexible with us, which unfortunately hasn’t been the case with all of the venues we had contracted with.
So we made the decision to move ahead with Hilton Head maybe a month and a half ago. We had quite a few people who had registered for the meeting, so I sent them all a survey to see how they are feeling about the event. The last thing I wanted to do was plan to move forward, and then 2 weeks before the program, everyone cancels and I don’t have a program. The survey asked about concerns regarding travel, if they had any travel restrictions from their employer, were they concerned about their safety being at this meeting, and then if we had to cancel the meeting, would they be willing to do a live webinar?
Our responses generally showed that yes, there were concerns, but that people still wanted to attend the live meeting. Based on those responses, we decided that there were enough people interested that we decided to move forward.
Our hotel was great in that they tore up our original contract and worked with us on the number of attendees we were now anticipating. Our sleeping room and food and beverage minimums came way down, which eased our burden and stress. The hotel obviously wanted to host the meeting for their own financial reasons, but they didn’t want to force us into something that wasn’t going to benefit us as well.
We didn’t do any recruitment for the meeting from March until later in the summer. And even then, we did have some people respond to us by saying, “Are you crazy? We’re in the middle of a pandemic!” and I completely understand where they are coming from. But I think there are lots of people with a different viewpoint, so if you don’t want to travel or you can’t travel, then you can do the live stream.
How many physicians have currently registered for the live, in-person meeting?
We currently have 45 registrants
Are most of the registered attendees local?
Typically, we recruit to physicians all over the United States, but for this program, almost everyone who has registered is from the East Coast.
What about the faculty? Are they going to be there on site?
We have two faculty presenters, both of whom will be at the conference. One of our original faculty had to pull out so we had to find a replacement for him. But one of our faculty is coming in from the West Coast, and both of these gentlemen are flying in.
What are the safety precautions being put in place? How is this going to look different than a typical PCN event?
First of all, we have a huge room. The venue was able to give us a big enough space to allow for adequate social distancing. We’re literally sitting one person per 6-foot table. Of course, if they are coming with someone, they can sit together.
We also worked with the venue to figure out how to serve the food. We usually serve a hot breakfast in the morning and have beverage service throughout the 3-day meeting. This year, there will be a server, but there will also be a buffet with plexiglass separating the attendees from the staff and food. Anything that can be prewrapped like muffins and bagels will be wrapped individually.
Then there are things like ARS. We usually have attendees use keypads that we distribute to them. But for this meeting, we’re using a different approach where they can log onto a website using their phone or their computer so that they don’t have to mess with keypads.
For registration, we’ll have packets ready in advance so that they can just grab them when they arrive.
Of course, we’ll also be following the hotel safety guidelines as well.
How many members of your team will be at the event?
We’ll have 3 staff and 2 faculty onsite. We usually send a few more people, but since this is a smaller meeting, we don’t need a big team to be there.
How nervous are they and how nervous are you about this?
I’m actually bringing my husband and son with me, only because they were supposed to come last year (note: that event was cancelled due to Hurricane Dorian). Honestly, I’m not excited about traveling by plane. That was a consideration. We spoke to our faculty and staff to make sure they were comfortable traveling to this program. We definitely don’t want to put anybody at risk or make anyone feel uncomfortable.
With things opening up a little bit and there being a shift where people are taking safety precautions a little bit more seriously with wearing masks and adhering to social distancing guidelines, I’m excited about it. I know one of our faculty considered driving to avoid the airlines, but it was a 10-12 hour drive, so he decided to fly.
Is there a real financial benefit to holding this event or are you doing it more to show that live, in-person education is possible in this environment?
We wouldn’t be moving forward with the program if it wasn’t to our financial benefit. I really didn’t want to cancel the program when we had so many people registered and interested. Obviously, we want to do this in the safest way we can, but yes, there is a financial benefit for us to hold this meeting.