May 16, 2018

How to Get the Most Out of a Nursing Conference

How to Get the Most Out of a Nursing Conference

by Lee Nelson

While earning her BSN degree, Anna Dermenchyan, MSN, RN, CCRN-K, attended her first nurse’s convention. It was the National Student Nurses’ Association annual convention in Dallas.

“This was my first taste of what a nursing conference can offer, and it was an awe-inspiring and life-changing experience. Since then, I have attended numerous conferences locally, nationally, and internationally as a participant and presenter,” she says.

Dermenchyan is senior clinical quality specialist in the Department of Medicine at UCLA Health. She also is a Ph.D. student at UCLA School of Nursing.

In 2010, she founded the first hospital-based chapter of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). As the first chapter president, she began an annual Leadership Symposium for nurses and nursing students within the hospital and the community.

“This process helped me learn all about program planning, project management, advertising/messaging, writing speaker agreements and contracts with facilities and vendors. At our first conference, we were excited to have around 100 people,” she says.

This past year, the UCLA Leadership Symposium sold out with 350 people in attendance and 25 exhibitors. In addition to chapter-level events around the country, AACN also has a national conference that attracts thousands of nurses and features around 400 exhibitors each year.

This year’s AACN conference is already sold out, but information about the 2019 event in Orlando can be foun at

What is a nursing expo/conference and what can someone expect from attending?  

“They allow you to stock up on a bunch of CEUs, check out new equipment at vendor booths, stay up to date with the latest research and bond with your co-workers as well as the new friends you’ve made,” says Marissa Labate, BNS, RN, CCRN, PHN. She is a surgical ICU nurse and nurse blogger in San Diego ( She’s been a nurse for four years, and she serves as the marketing chair for the AACN San Diego Chapter.

How can you prepare for a conference?

Labate always books at the hotel right across the street from the convention center. “You’re then able to walk to the conference and easily make a run back to the hotel if you needed something in the middle of the day,” she says. “If you’re not able to be within walking distance of the center, check to see that there are free shuttle buses available from your hotel.  

What should a participant in a nursing conference bring with them?

Bring business cards that have your current title and contact information, adds Dermenchyan.  Carry adapters or extra batteries for your phone, laptop or tablets.

How should someone dress for a nursing conference?

Always verify ahead of time whether or not the conference you attend has any guidelines for how you should dress, adds Dermenchyan. For most conferences, business casual is the standard. Labate brings comfortable clothes as well as some professional outfits. You may be attending receptions, dinners and other networking events that you’ll want to be dressed nicely. “There’s a lot of walking back and forth between sessions,” she says. So, she dresses casually in jeans and comfy shoes.

What are a few things someone should do when they first arrive at the conference site or hotel where it's going to be located?

When arriving at the conference site, first check-in at the registration to receive your badge and all the conference materials. Most conferences provide a hardcopy of the agenda and program book, says Dermenchyan. They may also have an app where you can download and access the most recent schedule and the details of the sessions. After checking in, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the conference, including the schedule, floor plan, help desk, location of food and other necessary items. This will help you be more effective in meeting your personal and professional goals for the conference.

How do you pick the best break-out sessions at a nursing conference?

Plan to attend all general sessions and keynote presentations, as well as any award ceremonies that are open to all attendees, she adds. These types of sessions are usually the main events planned by the conference and have some amazing inspirational speakers. Look for breakout sessions that are related to your interest area or identified learning gap. Also, plan time for fun activities, such as nurses’ night out and special networking sessions like the awards ceremonies or certification celebrations.  

How can you make your time more efficient when you go through the exhibit hall?

The conference catalog usually lists all the sponsors and exhibitors with their exact location. If there is any specific company or product you want to check out, then approach them first. If there isn’t, then schedule an hour or two during the conference to walk through the exhibit hall, starting at one end and finishing at the other. Many exhibitors have goodie bags or other fun items they give out. In addition, some raffle out various desirable products such as an iPad.

What is the appropriate etiquette at a conference?

It is important to look presentable and act respectful towards everyone you encounter, Dermenchyan explains. “Try to arrive 10-15 minutes prior to the start of the session, which will provide you time to settle down and network with the people around you. Silence your cell phone and other devices.” If you have to take a call, leave the room quietly. If you attend a session and it does not meet your objectives, it is okay to leave and find another session that you can enjoy.

Why do nurses attend conferences?

“The majority of nurses want to improve their knowledge and practice by learning the latest evidence-based practices and research in their field,” says Dermenchyan.

Her top reasons for attending conferences include:

  • getting the opportunity to network with like-minded people and meet leaders in the field,
  • visiting and exploring a new city or country,
  • presenting and disseminating results of my projects and research
  • learning the latest and greatest in her area of practice.
  • rejuvenating and reenergizing

What are a few other resources on how nurses can find conferences to attend?

Don’t overlook local conferences and events, she says. Check out the calendar of your professional organizations and see what is offered to you locally. The events that are local tend to be less expensive since the cost of travel is minimum. In addition, check to see if there are opportunities to apply for scholarships or grants.

“If you’re hesitant on attending a nursing conference, just go for it,” says Labate. “I look forward to it every year. It is crucial that RNs don’t remain stagnant in their workplace and continue to stay up to date on the latest research and evidence-based practices.”

Next Up: Career Advancement: Registered Nurse to Medical Doctor

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