by David Little | December 01, 2016

In the veterinary profession, one’s personal and professional life often overlap. Participants headed to the annual five-day Western Veterinary Conference regularly bring their spouses and children, and an increasing number of veterinarians have suggested they’d like to integrate family into their continuing-education (CE) experiences. The WVC, now an organization providing year-round training and continuing education, naturally wants to meet the needs of veterinary professionals through a variety of traditional learning opportunities such as hands-on labs, lectures and professional development workshops. But more recently we decided to start offering a family-friendly CE that is high quality and incorporates a sense of adventure. It’s called WVC Destination CE, and it’s set to launch in 2017 with an Alaskan cruise.

Several organizations offer such opportunities, and it’s easy to understand why. Attendees love the idea of bringing along a guest, spouse or the entire family—the trip promises wonderful memories and the experience still incorporates necessary and exceptional training. Any group can launch innovative CE events as long as those events include unique, targeted programming that meets the needs and wants of its members.

How can you set up learning programs that are as exciting as they are educational? The following three tips will help you start planning events that offer your audience a little something more.

1. Keep your members’ interests top of mind. When the WVC was planning its inaugural Destination CE, organizers asked themselves what location would be most appealing to members. Alaska was selected because our members tend to be interested in natural, pristine environments with a plethora of wildlife. Next, planners determined the focus of the continuing education; they chose dermatology based on industry buzz and the amount of innovation and change occurring in this field. Again, we want to offer information that veterinarians will find interesting and valuable.

2. Expand your horizons. When the WVC was created in 1928, the organization was founded on its signature event—the annual conference. And while that event continues to expand beyond what our founders ever could have envisioned, we know that to meet our goal of being a leader of quality, practical veterinary continuing education, we have to expand our offerings.

That mindset led us to create programs like “On the Road,” which brings CE opportunities to cities across the United States, making it easier and cost-effective for veterinary professionals to gain the knowledge they need. There’s also the Veterinary Technician Symposium, a hands-on learning opportunity designed specifically for one vital segment of the profession, and the Women’s Veterinary Summit. What we’ve learned is that it pays to be adventurous and flexible when it comes to creating new types of member programming as long as you prioritize the needs of participants.

3. Provide more networking opportunities. Each year, we ask the participants of our annual conference for feedback, and they regularly request more networking opportunities. As so often happens at any big meeting, a lot of time is spent facing the stage and less time is given over to meeting up with colleagues and new people. That’s why we recently created WVC Connections, a year-round, online forum free to participants of all WVC courses and conferences that hosts lively conversations and shared information, and a new program called Mentor Match, which brings together 30 mentors and 30 mentees as a way of connecting people in different stages of their professional lives, providing much-needed guidance and support.

When I reflect on the change that has happened in learning and education over the last five to 10 years, I am amazed at how many varied opportunities organizations continue to introduce that both benefit and please members. No matter the agenda, CE experiences can incorporate family time or be catered to specific groups or make a point of fostering ties between newer and longtime members. The key to success is ensuring your offerings are targeted, innovative and, above all, fun!