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Reconnecting in a socially distanced world: Connexity 2021

What will professional conferences and association events look like as we move toward a postpandemic world?

“They’re going to look very different,” said Erin Parrott, CMP, VEMM, PCA, AAHA’s senior manager for meetings and events. The CMP after her name stands for certified meeting professional and she’s been planning events for AAHA for the past four years, including Connexity 2019 in Indianapolis—AAHA’s last in-person conference before the pandemic.

Now she’s busy planning AAHA’s first in-person conference since the pandemic, scheduled for September 22–25 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

While the in-person events were on hold, she took time to study for a new credential that didn’t even exist a year ago. Parrott now holds the additional certification of Pandemic Compliance Advisor (PCA) for meeting planners.

As face-to-face (F2F) meetings begin to reopen after a year of virtual conferences, the need to implement new COVID-specific safety protocols for events became obvious. To operate F2F meetings responsibly during a pandemic, event planning professionals like Parrott saw the need to ensure participants, suppliers, and staff are protected within the scope of those meetings from contracting or spreading a communicable disease.

Parrott says planning safe F2F environments goes well beyond the basics of social distancing, wearing masks, and frequent hand sanitization (all of which will be mandatory at Connexity). The choice of venue, for example: Connexity will be held at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess hotel.

Parrott calls the Fairmont “the perfect venue” for a postpandemic F2F conference. “It’s a resort, so there’s a lot of outdoor space, which we wouldn’t have if we were in a downtown hotel. Plus, the Fairmont has its own safety protocols in place. All that space allows us to spread out so we won’t be on top of each other.” She said as many events as possible will be held outside, mostly during the morning and evening hours when the temperatures are cool. “It is Arizona in September,” she laughs.

Parrott says attendees will notice that many things are going to be done very differently compared with previous AAHA conferences. For instance, there’s no exhibit hall in the traditional sense. “Instead, guests can engage sponsors and industry experts one on one in AAHA’s new ‘Solutions Carnival,’ and gain answers to common practice problems or learn about the newest products and technology while participating in a demo.

As Parrott notes, her PCA training will help ensure that the trip to Scottsdale will be a welcome escape from the day-to-day responsibilities veterinary professionals face—particularly after a year of running themselves ragged under some of the most extraordinary circumstances the profession has ever known.

“AAHA will take care of you, providing meals, entertainment, and plenty of socially distant learning opportunities,” said Parrott. That includes 30-plus hours of scientific CE in addition to nonscientific CE. “And we’re shifting the focus from health and wellness to a mix of wellness and science because we’ve listened to members’ feedback—they made it clear that, in addition to in-person CE, they wanted greater emphasis on science and veterinary medicine best practices, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide that for them.”

Part of the fun includes a socially distanced, fully immersive anesthesia simulation, where teams of four can test their anesthesia and problem-solving skills in a mock surgery scenario. Group size will be limited, masks are required, and Parrot says simulations will be staggered to ensure staff has time to thoroughly clean and sanitize the room between groups.

We’re not out of the COVID woods yet, Parrott noted, but said that, after more than a year of virtual meetings and online CE, veterinary professionals are hungry for personal contact and connection. “People are looking to recharge their passion for their profession,” she added.

AAHA CEO Garth Jordan thinks a F2F Connexity conference can help them do that: “After a year of feeling uncertain and disconnected, we want to boldly experiment with the conference format and reinvigorate our own vision of what veterinary medicine and veterinary teams can be.”

Jordan and AAHA are committed to making Connexity exciting and fun. And Parrott is committed to making it safe.

Visit aaha.org/connexity for more information and to register for the event.

Photo credit: © martin-dim/E+ via Getty Images

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