ASPE 2023 First-Time Conference Attendees’ Reflections

By: Amy Rush, Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Simulation at University of Tennessee Health Science Center

We all remember preparing for our first ASPE conference. What sessions will I attend? Will I be overwhelmed with too much to do? What if nobody talks to me? What if I don’t like the hotel coffee?

Dr. Saira AL Balushi PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, Consultant Senior Science Teacher from Oman College of Health Sciences in Muscat, Oman was a first-time conference attendee at the 2023 ASPE conference in Portland, OR. She was glad she came to her first official professional SP-related event, as the “… connection with SP global community and experts has always been one of my professional goals that I would be interested to continue to learn and share through.” She noted that the conference was an opportunity to transform professionals through the power of human interaction.

Kristi Tomooka-Russo, SP Educator with Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in Nutley, NJ just completed her first year as an SP Educator. “I had ASPE on my radar, but my workload prevented me from attending last year's event,” she said. The conference organizers “met expectations with organization and communication regarding everything from housing to offered sessions.”

It was April 2020 when Melanie MacLeod started her work as a Simulated Patient Educator at the Centre for Collaborative Clinical Learning and Research at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS, Canada. She has attended several virtual ASPE presentation and conference sessions, but this was her first in-person conference. “I've been a part of ASPE's EDI special interest group for a while now, and I was keen to get involved with a presentation with a few other members. Things fell into place from there, and I was excited to have the opportunity to attend a conference in person.”

The robust number of workshops, presentations and snapshots are a big draw for ASPE conferences. Dr. AL Balushi noticed that so many of the shorter sessions happened at the same time. She said, “This was great, yet over whelming to choose among list of interesting topics!”

The number of impactful conference sessions felt daunting to Tomooka-Russo, too. She said, “I wished I had an additional team member so that we could divide and conquer the optional sessions. I found myself torn with wanting to attend sessions with conflicting schedules.” She hopes that her institution has the funding to bring along additional support next year. Tomooka-Russo said that something she was glad she could take away from the conference was medical improv, as she’s looking forward to integrating these new skills and activities into her own SP debriefing and de-roling to ensure mental wellness.

Cori Maskart, SP Specialist in the SP Program at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania said that conference attendees from his institution already have implemented  many applied improv skills into their trainings after the conference. He found the plenary speech and the post-conference workshop led by Dr. Belinda Fu inspiring. MacLeod said it had been on her radar to modify her SP trainings and that she plans to “ … really focus on how to adapt my trainings to be more engaging and meet the needs of different SPs … I learned a few acting things in the workshops that I could apply to trainings.”

Maskart explained how he learned a valuable skill to track the time he takes to complete work and to track progress on projects to accurately report to his supervisory organization for additional institutional support. This metrics gathering system was learned in a session called, “HELP! I Need Somebody! – An Administrator’s Theme Song,” and Maskart is glad this new skill may help his team long-term as their program grows.

Conference attendees certainly are guided by prepared presentations and workshops, but our understanding of this work is broadened by other immeasurable ways, as MacLeod observed. “I knew from colleagues who had been in the past that it was always really enjoyable, and you meet a lot of people, which was true! Something I was not quite expecting was learning so much about other program set-ups that exist at other institutions, and therefore how much variety there is in our SPE roles,” she said.

The Whova conference app was a useful tool for newcomers to connect via the message board – there even was a thread for first timers to introduce themselves – and it helped people prepare for the busy conference schedule. “The conference app was a fantastic way to stay connected and find ways to meet up with people outside of the conference!” MacLeod said.

Visiting a new city brings opportunities to explore a new part of the world. Dr. AL Balushi said that she only wished that the sessions’ timing worked better with local stores’ hours. Maskart will remember karaoke nights that he enjoyed with fellow conference attendees. MacLeod said she really enjoyed connecting with people she had been meeting with virtually for the past year and she was glad she could meet some new people and develop connections for the future. Forming connections during impromptu meetups is what Tomooka-Russo appreciates about attending an in-person conference.

Maskart was glad to be able to attend this year’s conference, as he became an SP Specialist in September 2022. “My team is very involved in ASPE, and as a new team member, I quickly became involved also. Thankfully, our institution is willing to fund relevant Professional Development opportunities, so I was able to attend the conference!” He can’t wait for next year. “I had such an incredible time, learned so much, and really felt valued and uplifted by everyone at the conference.”

Dr. AL Balushi will remember the “positive and welcom[ing] spirit of SP experts including members of the board of directors who were role models as well as SP experts from various states and institutions. Collectively, it was heart touching!”

Communications and Connections Committee Mission: “To bring high quality reporting of current research, trends, techniques and information regarding SP methodology and other relevant industry articles to the attention of the membership through the web-based ASPE eNews blog.”

Please provide comments, questions or suggestions about the ASPE eNews Blog here.

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