Lindsey Peters, PharmD, BCPS
Continuing education and expansion of professional networks are key to a fruitful pharmacy career. But how can one continue their education, learn new ideas, and network during a global pandemic? With an assist from COVID-19, the necessity for virtual learning has exploded. Many organizations have moved upcoming national meetings to online platforms (including CPNP 2021), and given the unique benefits of virtual meeting attendance, it is projected that virtual opportunities will persist in the post-COVID-19 era.1
What does this mean for students and preceptors? Before discussing the unique advantages of a virtual conference, it’s important to recognize the benefits of conference attendance in general. Conferences offer attendees a designated time to learn, network, and exchange ideas. Such activities are essential to the pharmacy community. For students, attendance may reinforce course content or strengthen knowledge in a given subject area. Attendance may also offer students insight into new topics, fields, or careers of interest. Students may make connections with peers and learn what other student chapters are doing in a particular organization. They may also identify potential professional mentors to help kickstart their careers.
While conferences offer several benefits to student pharmacists, economic barriers may limit student attendance. Some organizations, including the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP), offer student registration and travel grants to help mitigate this barrier.2 Of note, grants are typically limited in number. With an increasing number of online opportunities in the COVID-19 era, conference attendance may now be more affordable for student pharmacists. With no need for travel, there are no flight delays, cancellations, security lines, and perhaps most importantly, no travel expenses.3,4,5 Flight and hotel costs contribute considerably to the total cost of attending a traditional, in-person conference. Virtual attendance may therefore result in demonstrable cost savings. Some virtual conferences may even be free of cost.
Virtual conferences offer increased convenience to presenters and participants, with the possibility to join at any time and from anywhere. Participants may have the ability to learn at their own pace, with the potential to pause, rewind, or re-watch content. These added conveniences may enable preceptors to manage personal and professional commitments, including preceptorship, with greater ease while attending.
Networking is a significant benefit of in-person conference attendance; yet, such opportunities remain possible in virtual venues. Organizations may offer virtual happy hours, idea exchanges, award ceremonies, and other activities, during which attendees can engage with and learn from one another.6 Poster sessions remain accessible through online venues and enable attendees to present research, review the work of colleagues, and identify future collaborators across the globe.7
The demand for virtual learning due to COVID-19 may be temporary, but the utilization of virtual technologies is not. Attending a conference in-person offers its unique advantages; however, virtual conferences and hybrid meetings minimize certain barriers that are associated with traditional conference attendance. Students should be encouraged to embrace this opportunity. Keep a lookout for the CPNP 2021 Annual Meeting schedule, and help to advance the reach and practice of psychiatric pharmacy!