Ah, the dog days of summer are here at last. I can now only vaguely recall the howling wind and blizzard-like conditions that followed me from the Northeast to a snowy SECO just a few short months ago. It’s so hot in New Jersey today that I’m nostalgic when I think of that night I spent watching the snowfall from my makeshift bed in the Atlanta airport.

Call me crazy, but I’m counting the days until my escape to the more temperate San Francisco Bay Area for this year’s AAO meeting. My husband says my pleas for fall to arrive ahead of schedule sound like the kids barking “Are we there yet?” from the back seat. But, the truth is, these escapes to conferences aren’t just about following fairer weather. They’re also invigorating and reignite your passion for optometry.

Obviously, meetings and trade shows are excellent sources for obtaining clinical knowledge. And yes, the quality can differ from one to the next; but, a quick look at the event brochure should allow you to separate the good ones from the great ones.

If you want to accumulate as many CE credits as possible, it’s best to attend a larger trade show. They offer a crazy amount of courses. But, don’t just pop in to any old course. Look for speakers whose reputations you know and trust. While there are some fantastic up-and-comers at the podium, you want to make sure your experience also includes presentations by speakers who are recognized leaders in their fields.

If you have not heard a particular presenter speak in the past, look up some of the articles he or she has written. Do they provide real value, or are they merely sales pitches? While many of the top docs are also consultants, product-specific information shouldn’t be all they write about. Edcational articles should be balanced and provide insight that extends beyond corporate objectives.

Another great reason to attend conferences is the networking opportunities they provide. While every meeting offers an opportunity to meet other O.D.s, there are big differences in whom you will meet and how closely your interests will match other attendees’. For instance, if you attend a large show, you will meet the most people. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the other attendees are particularly knowledgeable about or interested in specialty lens fitting, for example. While you’re sure to find a course on it at the larger trade shows, if you want to eat, breathe and sleep large-diameter lenses, you might want to attend a contact lens meeting this year.

Smaller, so-called “boutique style” meetings are another excellent choice because they offer a truly unique networking experience. For many O.D.s, these conferences double as vacations, so everyone is more laid back. This allows for more personal, one-on-one interaction with presenters—as well as countless, candid poolside conversations with colleagues. As such, you tend to walk away from this type of meeting with a few new friends and some pretty important professional contacts with whom you will quickly be on a first-name basis.

Another big benefit to meetings is the opportunity to check out the exhibits. Halls at the larger meetings can be truly awe-inspiring. When you want to get an idea of the entire universe of innovation in eye care, big trade shows are the place to go. They’re also great for frame buyers. And, larger halls are a great choice if you are shopping for a specific type of technology and want to try a few out. Likewise, specialty meetings are a great choice if you are in the market for new technology in that field.

If, on the other hand, you want to talk off the ear of a particular company’s rep in order to get a complete low-down on how something will work in your very unique individual practice, the smaller meetings are a better bet. These generally provide more on-site opportunities for getting really specific.

Whatever you’re looking for, there is more than likely a perfect fit. You just need to properly identify your needs and do your research ahead of time. Autumn will be here before we know it—though in my opinion, not soon enough. With it, comes Review’s own New Technology and Treatments in Vision Care meeting, followed by Vision Expo West. For more, check out our conference listings.