Friday, June 29, 2012

Time to re-think midwifery conferences?

I have been following the discussion about the sponsorship of midwifery face-to-face conferences by infant formula and baby product companies, in the Facebook group: British Journal of Midwifery- You can't be Serious! The argument is that conferences are too expensive to run without sponsorship from these companies. My feeling is that if we have to compromise our professional integrity for the sake of a free pen and conference bag, then maybe it's time to re-think conferences and their appropriateness as professional development.

Too expensive?
Conferences have always been a popular mode of professional development for midwives. If nothing else, they are an opportunity to get away from the daily grind of life, family and work. Midwives love nothing more than meeting up with colleagues and having a good natter. I have often heard them saying the best part of a conference is the dinner when everyone lets their hair down, and when the serious networking is done. But I was recently horrified to see that a conference I was planning to attend later this year was charging $155 for the conference dinner, and $80 for the welcome reception. Honestly....I could feed my whole family at a restaurant for $150!! I don't know about you...but I just cannot afford those kinds of fees.

Effective learning?
Apart from being a financial and sustainability issue, conferences are now considered to be an ineffective model for professional development. Rather than one-off meetings that use a "one-size fits all" approach, professional development is effective when it takes a long-term view of learning, and is designed to meet individual learning needs. There also needs to be follow-up, and on-going support for professional development activities to have concrete outcomes.

Time to re-think?
I think it is time to re-think face-to-face conferences as a mode of professional development. Whilst they will always have their place, I think we need to be open to other ideas, and be creative about our approach to PD.

If we continue to value face-to-face meetings, I believe we need to consider how we can make them more affordable so that we do not need to rely on sponsorship. This may need us to turn the traditional conference format on its head...that expensive, luxury conference dinner has to go!

Are you up for it?!

TR Guskey. 1999. Evaluating professional development. Corwin Press. 
Lynn Anderson and Terry Anderson. 2010. Online Conferences: Professional Development for a Networked Era. Information Age Publishing.
S Stewart, M Sidebotham, and  D Davis. 2012.  International networking: connecting midwives through social media. International Nursing Review.
S Kildea., L Barclay. & P Brodie. 2006. Maternity care in the bush: using the internet to provide educational resources to isolated practitioners. Rural and Remote Health, 6, 1–12.
J Patterson. & D Davis. 2007 New Zealand midwives and tertiary study. New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 36, 13–19.


Melissa Garvey said...

Interesting post, Sarah! I wonder if we'll see conferences moving more of their content online. ACNM has been experimenting with making education sessions available online after our annual meeting. So far it's been a matter of finding a user-friendly, professional, affordable system to get the material out to midwives. Online education cuts travel and lodging expenses, which actually makes up a huge portion of the cost to attendees.

Sarah Stewart said...

Don't get me wrong, Melissa, I am not advocating all online PD....that wouldn't be appropriate for a number of reasons. But just as undergraduate education is changing and looking at models such as problem, project and work-based learning, so I believe we should be taking the same approach to PD.

Joy Johnston said...

Sarah I'm glad you have raised this point. It seems to me that over time there has been an increasing 'need' for sponsorship of professional organisations, yet prices for conference continue to rise. The baby formula people are ready, willing and able. A recent example is a coffee machine made by a well known baby formula company - passed on by the professional organisation to the lucky winner of a competition.
I find it difficult to quantify and record work-based learning, because it is happening all the time.

Sarah Stewart said...

I don't think you need to quantity work-based learning, but you do need to reflect on it, monitor and comment in some way...this is where a portfolio comes into play.