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AAHA’s Connexity 2020 a success (literally and virtually!)

“I had no idea what I was getting into going to a virtual conference,” said Coral Ware, CVT. “I just had no concept of how it was going to work.”                                     

As it turns out, AAHA’s first virtual conference worked well: Connexity, held online from September 30 through October 3, featured 3 keynote speakers, 40 facilitators, and 41 sessions, including a Diversity in Veterinary Medicine workshop and an ER Bootcamp, 616 registered attendees, with minimum technical difficulties.

AAHA’s Senior Veterinary Officer, Heather Loenser, DVM, who served both as a moderator and Connexity’s “content weaver,” told NEWStat that going “virtual brought about challenges that our team and our veterinary colleagues quickly overcame. By the second day, any online glitches were almost imperceptible. Personally, I loved seeing where our guests were during the conference, evidenced by pictures on social media of their workbooks perched on treadmills, leaning against sleeping cats, or even on the laps of folks cozied up on the couch of a beautiful bed and breakfast that was rented out by an entire hospital. People were learning and engaging where they were, despite juggling COVID protocols, online schooling, and traffic in the treatment room.”

It was Ware’s second Connexity—she was in Indianapolis for Connexity 2019—and she says she had a great experience at both: “Both times I came back to the hospital [feeling] rejuvenated in my passion [for the profession ] and the people who work [in veterinary medicine].”

Ware is the medical services director at AAHA-accredited Bethany Animal Hospital in Sycamore, Illinois. “I’m pretty sure it’s a title my boss made up, because I do so many random things around here,” she told NEWStat with a laugh.

The elements Ware enjoyed most at both conferences were the same: the opportunity to connect with people, the emphasis on how to be a better leader, and the sessions on mental health issues. She calls Connexity “a really big inspiration for me.”

Loenser said the keynote speakers continue to be the biggest draw at Connexity and seem to really engage attendees: “We’re still getting posts added to the Connexity Facebook group about how keynotes inspired them to do reach outside their comfort zones to more deeply connect with their staff, clients, and patients,” she added.

Ware said Heather Younger’s session, “Changing ‘I Quit’ to ‘I Fit’: Five Powerful Strategies to Increase Employee Retention and Create an Amazing Workplace Culture” inspired her to be a better leader. But the keynote speaker who had the biggest personal impact on her was Hello Fears founder Michelle Poler and her presentation, “Fear Less, Do More.” Ware says it had a profound effect on her personal as well as professional life, and she will “continue to follow her work.”

Alyson Evans, CVT, RVT, said the session that engaged her the most was “Taming the Elephant in Your Exam Room: Building Confidence in Discussing the Cost of Veterinary Care.” Evans is lead veterinary technician at AAHA-accredited Briargate Boulevard Animal Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a Connexity first timer.

“That was a huge takeaway for me,” Evans said of the session. She learned a lot about having difficult conversations with clients and, echoing Ware, says that what she learned at Connexity carries over into her personal life.

Also like Ware, Evans was extremely impressed with Michele Poler’s keynote: “We all have our fears, whether professional or personal, especially with the pandemic going on, and we’re all just trying to get by,” she said. Poler’s keynote helped put those fears in perspective, and got her to think in terms of what people could accomplish if they overcame their fears: “Overcoming that fear drives you to do a little bit more.” Evans said it was transformative in terms of her career goals, which include becoming a certified veterinary practice manager and moving into practice management.

Ware said her two biggest takeaways from Connexity involved leadership and the importance of mental health in the practice of veterinary medicine. This year’s Connexity, she said, “Got you interested in going back and helping the people you work with.”

And while she hadn’t known what to expect from a virtual conference, Ware says interacting with others didn’t turn out to be much of an issue.

“Obviously, an in-person conference is always going to trump a virtual conference,” Ware says. “But the use of the Connexity Facebook page allowed me to feel like I was still talking to people. And I loved the meetings with the Zoom breakouts.” The Zoom breakouts integrated an online chat feature that allowed attendees to communicate during sessions real time. “So I still felt connected.”

That said, Ware added, “I hope we’ll be able to meet next year in Scottsdale in person [Scottsdale, Arizona, site of Connexity 2021]. Virtual is great, but it’s definitely nice to meet in person.”

Loenser said she’s proud that AAHA’s first virtual conference went so well, and she’s thrilled that attendees like Ware and Evans got so much out of it. And if AAHA has to go virtual again next year, we’ve learned a few things this year that’ll make it even better. “I’m confident we can continue to build on the excitement for Connexity and look forward to connecting our colleagues IRL [in real life] and online next year,” said Loenser.

See you next year (one way or the other) in Scottsdale!

Photo credit: © Laurence Dutton/E+ via Getty Images