In the next month, I have the privilege of attending two national EMS conferences The first is the NCEMSF Conference (National Collegiate EMS Foundation http://www.ncemsf.org/), in my backyard, Philadelphia, PA. The other will be the JEMS Conference, EMS Today (http://www.emstoday.com). I'm getting to be an old hand at JEMS, especially in Baltimore, but I've never been to the NCEMSF Conference before, so that will be a new experience.
On Twitter, I've seen some folks comment that they've never been to an EMS Conference before – so I figured I'd write a bit of a guide for new folks going.
First – What to wear:
Comfortable shoes are key. Between wandering the exhibit floor, walking between spread-out classrooms, and walking to lunch and evening activities, you'll spend a LOT of time on your feet. If you don't wear comfortable shoes, you'll be looking for the on-site EMS coverage folks for band-aids and moleskin for your blisters. Oh – and make sure the shoes are broken in... or you'll have the same issues with blisters.
Every year, I see a wide range of attire, from suits and ties to ripped T-shirts and torn blue jeans. There are also more than a few wearing “Absolute EMT” t-shirts and squad uniforms. I tend to try to appear professional – collared shirts and khakis or nice jeans.
As for uniforms: I may wear a jobshirt or sweatshirt with a department logo, and that's as far as I'll go. I never understand the folks wandering around in full duty uniforms (excluding the ones there staffing a booth for their department), and why do folks insist on wearing their pagers or turnout coats?
What to do:
The reason I get to go to the conference is education. That means that I try to pick topics that are interesting, and that I'll get something out of. Networking is a great benefit to an event of that scale, and I'm looking forward to seeing folks I met last year, and meeting new folks, too. Some folks go to these events looking for new employment possibilities, and there are a host of companies there recruiting.
As for sessions – Go to ones that interest you. Just because you signed up for one session doesn't mean you can't change your mind and go to a different one. Be aware of the continuing education restrictions, though. For example, even though I'm a medic, as a condition of me going last year, my sessions had to be approved for BLS con-ed. Be aware if you have similar restrictions. Steve Berry happens to be my favorite lecturer, and his sessions are ALWAYS standing-room-only. Get their early to get good seats. Bring a notepad and be able to take notes. I'm not a huge note-taker, but there will always be something of benefit to research more later.
Networking is great, and sometimes occurs in the exhibit halls and corridors of the convention center. More often than not, though, it occurs over food and drink at lunch and in the evenings. There are sales reps from many companies present, and some of them will offer to buy you dinner or drinks. Remember, they are trying to sell you something, and accepting free meals from them may violate an anti-kickback or ethics policy at your work place. Be careful, and remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch. That being said – meeting with sales reps is a natural occurrence at a conference like EMS Today – just be careful that you don't jam yourself up.
Additionally, if you are of legal age and partake in adult beverages, use caution. First, you are representing your service(s) and the profession as a whole, so don't make the rest of us look bad. For those of you that are perhaps networking for better employment, everything is an interview! Then again, it is natural to let your hair down a little bit with friends new and old, and some of the best education occurs when talking to folks with different experiences over a glass of good beer. Just remember to drink in moderation. If you do drink too much, you'll feel like SH*T the next morning, and perhaps sleep though sessions. I need to demonstrate that I attend the sessions so my conference fee gets paid for, but even if you are paying your own way – it's a shame to miss good sessions because you can't control your behavior.
Philadelphia and Baltimore are both big cities. They make an effort to make the downtown area “safe”, but bad stuff still happens. I KNOW Philly, and I'm comfortable with the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. When traveling, if possible, travel in groups. Don't go exploring areas off the beaten path, and don't be afraid to ask a Police Officer for assistance. Use some common sense, and recognize that even though it's the safe part of the city – it's still the big city.
Anyway – Have fun, and if you're at either conference, I'd love to meet you.