Like many medical professionals, I am a member of more than one professional organization. My primary organization is the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). I am also an affiliate member of the Medical Library Association (MLA). I attended the recent MLA conference in Austin, and as I fly home to Seattle, I can still smell the wondrous aroma of barbecue on my clothes, the fragrance that seems to permeate all of Austin.

It’s fascinating to compare the conferences of the two organizations. AAPA is certainly bigger; MLA is undoubtedly more heavily weighted by women; MLA lacks a House of Delegates; and both are led by executive directors who have strong ideas about reshaping their organizations.

The AAPA conference is primarily a CME engine for PAs, although there are various other events. This makes sense because CME is a necessary and integral driver of PA function. The MLA is less focused on what they call CE. While they offer this to members for an additional fee, the conference is less focused on CE classes and presentations.

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With the AAPA’s half-and-half gender balance up against the MLA’s higher percentage of women, you might think this would lead to wholesale differences in conference focus. However, the conferences feel pretty similar in how they run. Certainly the content of the presentations is divergent due to different professional foci, but the way the conferences run is more similar than not.

One key difference is in member engagement, as measured by the number of members who vote in annual elections. The AAPA appears to be stuck around the 10% to 12% mark. The MLA, on the other hand, comes in at 38%. From what I hear, that’s astonishingly high. The AAPA could learn something from this.  

It’s refreshing to see other organizations’ efforts in conference planning. It would be helpful for medical organizations to work with each other to see what works and what doesn’t as far as conference planning and execution. From what I can tell, not much collaboration exists regarding conference planning, and it seems to me that this is a lost opportunity.

Austin was a great place, although I don’t understand why they have so many ATMs. But that, as they say, is a different story. It’s a wild fantasy of mine to think about how fun it would be to have an inter-professional conference with several organizations present, like AAPA, the MLA, maybe an NP organization, and perhaps a public health organization as well. Call me a dreamer, but what an exciting event that would be, bringing together a variety of medical professions into one conference setting.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is a physician assistant in Seattle, WA.