January 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Medical Assistants - January 2000

Current Issue
January 2000
Welcoming Committee Welcoming committee: Members of the Greater Philadelphia Health Care Congress include (from left) Tom Muldoon, president of the Phildadelphia CVB; Jean O’Donnell, planner for the American College of PhysiciansAmerican Society of Internal Medicine; Shirley Bonnem, VP of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Allen Myers, M.D., president of GPHCC.

Medical Assistants

Cities are enlisting local health-care professionals to lend planners their expertise

By Maria Lenhart

  They can find a keynote speaker at the last minute, supply a panel of experts for a breakout session, recommend a great off-site venue, host a welcome reception or provide access to a top medical facility for a VIP tour. The new superheroes of the medical meetings world are members of advisory boards composed of local doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and other health-care professionals. These civic-minded organizations work in partnership with convention and visitor bureaus to promote their cities as medical meeting destinations. What’s more, they work for free.

The Greater Philadelphia Health Care Congress, Boston Medical Alliance, Nashville Health Care Council and Houston Health Care Congress are among those offering their expertise to planners. Serving as liaisons between the medical and hospitality communities, these groups play an advisory role to CVBs and meeting planners alike. although their primary purpose is to attract medical-related business, including meetings, to their cities, they also will provide planners with contacts and services that might otherwise be difficult to obtain.

The oldest and largest of these councils is the Greater Philadelphia Health Care Congress, which was formed in 1990 by Tom Muldoon, president of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. Believing Philadelphia’s health-care community could help the city draw more medical groups, Muldoon enlisted key people from the city’s medical and nursing schools, hospitals, biotech firms and pharmaceutical companies, as well as meeting planners. A division of the CVB, GPHCC has grown to include more than 500 members.

In Philadelphia, where medical meetings account for more than one-third of the city’s total convention business, “we estimate that [GPHCC] is responsible for at least one-third of all our medical-related bookings and that it helps bring in another third,” says Muldoon. “The rest would have come anyway.”

The board’s success can be attributed in part to the fact that most GPHCC members are prominent members of one or more national medical associations. “The involvement of people from the health-care community gives us credibility that we never could achieve on our own,” says Muldoon. “Many of them play a key role in convincing their associations to meet here. They can create a groundswell of support from those association members who are locally based.”

Members of the CVB sales staff meet regularly with various GPHCC committees, which focus on nursing, dentistry and other specialties. “It’s a two-way educational exchange,” says Muldoon. “While we keep them informed on economic development in the city, they play a valuable role in educating our salespeople about what medical groups need and what they’re looking for.”

Jean O’Donnell, director of convention and meeting services for the Philadelphia-based American College of PhysiciansAmerican Society of Internal Medicine, who is one of GPHCC’s several meeting planner members, believes this kind of partnership makes the city a better place for medical meetings.


Here’s how to contact the health-care organizations mentioned in this article.

Greater Philadelphia Health Care Congress, Philadelphia CVB, (215) 636-3300,

Boston Medical Alliance, Greater Boston CVB, (617) 867-8235,

Houston Health Care Congress, Greater Houston CVB, (713) 227-3100,

Nashville Health Care Council, Matthew Gallivan, Executive Director, (615) 742-8420,


“The health-care-congress concept is a good one for cities because it educates the medical community on the importance of meetings business,” she says.“The more educated the community, the better the city works as a meetings site.”

Along with promoting the city to medical groups, GPHCC also serves as a resource for planners who are looking for venues, speakers and local contacts in the medical community. Especially active in this regard is the GPHCC Nursing Committee, which has formed a speaker’s bureau of nursing experts. Working with the CVB, the committee promotes the service by direct mail to nursing associations.

We know cost containment is a big issue for health-care organizations, and the speaker’s bureau is designed to help with this,” says Joan Randolph, chairman of the GPHCC Nursing Committee and vice president of patient services at Philadelphia’s Jeanes Hospital. “If a speaker cancels at the last minute, we can supply a substitute, and the planner saves the cost of flying someone in.”

The Nursing Committee frequently teams up with the Philadelphia CVB to host welcome receptions and coffee breaks at the conventions of various nurses associations. Committee members also provide the CVB sales staff with information on off-site venues of particular interest to nurses groups.

With a membership that includes meeting planners, GPHCC also can provide an insider’s perspective on meeting in Philadelphia. O’Donnell says the congress serves “as a reference for other medical meeting planners who want advice on an off-site venue or on other ways to enhance their programs.”

Boston bands together
Although Philadelphia has the nation’s most extensive health-care congress by far, other cities are seeking to emulate its success. One example is the Boston Medical Alliance, primarily made up of doctors and administrators from local hospitals. The group was formed in 1995 to work in partnership with the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

According to Andrea Shamoian, convention sales manager for the Greater Boston CVB, BMA is designed to benefit both the city’s medical and meetings interests. “The hospitals want more international patients in their beds, and we want more international medical conferences,” she says. “The reasoning is that if BMA helps us bring in more medical associations, then the hospitals will get the kind of international exposure they want.”

As in Philadelphia, the CVB enlists the help of BMA members, all of whom belong to medical associations, to promote Boston to association decision-makers. So far, BMA, which recently worked with the CVB on an unsuccessful bid to host an upcoming convention of the International Society for Neurological Surgeons, has yet to have much of an impact in terms of drawing meetings to Boston. “The doctors worked really hard to influence the group and were very discouraged when we lost out to Sydney (Australia),” says Shamoian. “Our partnership with BMA is still a work in progress, but I know it will work eventually.”

Although it has not yet brought new business, the relationship between the CVB and BMA has benefited meetings already booked in Boston. “Because the teaching hospitals want more exposure to international doctors, they will provide presenters and speakers for meetings,” says Shamoian. “BMA members also have arranged for technical tours. A recent group visited the trauma center at the University of Massachusetts, where one of the doctors went up in a helicopter [that transported a patient to the center].”

Hopeful in Houston
Also 4 years old is the Houston Health Care Congress, with two dozen representatives. “Our sales team has worked to get key people involved with the health-care congress because we want to educate the medical community about Houston as a meetings destination,” says Rhonda Stone, executive director of convention sales and services for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “As with many cities, we had spent a lot of time getting the word out about the city across the country, but what we had not done was get the word out locally.”

Stone credits HHCC with helping to bring in small medical groups that meet in hotels, but, she says, the full potential of the organization will not be realized until Houston has an adequate number of hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center. Plans are in the works for a 1,000-room hotel to open near the George R. Brown Convention Center in 2003. “Until we get that convention hotel, we cannot attract large medical meetings, and there’s nothing the health-care congress can do about that,” she says.

Networking in Nashville
Unlike its counterparts in Philadelphia, Houston and Boston, the Nashville Health Care Council, formed in 1995, operates independently of a convention and visitors bureau. Although the council, which has 67 member organizations, was not established to attract medical meetings, it has proved to be a resource for groups meeting in Nashville.

“Our main intent is to build up health-care business for Nashville by encouraging more companies to relocate and do business here,” says NHCC executive director Matthew Gallivan. “However, we’ve played a part in a number of meetings here.”


For Marty Liggett, executive director of the American Society of Hematology in Washington, D.C., the decision to book her annual convention in Philadelphia for 2002 was based in part on the phone calls she and her board members received from members of the Greater Philadelphia Health Care Council. “We had some reservations about meeting in Philadelphia, but they had ready answers for all our concerns,” she says.

Not completely sold, Liggett paid a visit to the city before clinching the deal. “What [GPHCC] did was spark our interest, but all the lobbying in the world would not have worked if the underlying facilities weren’t there.”

The Washington, D.C.-based American Nurses Association also is holding its annual convention in Philadelphia in 2002. Although Betty Whittaker, manager of meetings, conventions and travel, says GPHCC played no part in the site selection, she intends to use the organization as a resource during planning.

“What we value is their access to local medical facilities and outreach to hospitals,” Whittaker says. “They can help us build attendance by helping us distribute information about the convention.”

In a similar vein, committee members of the American Law Firm Association’s Health Care Practice Group are working with the Nashville Health Care Council on a meeting set for next November in Nashville. The Los Angeles-based association has asked NHCC to host a welcome reception and to help locate speakers and panelists for the program.


One way NHCC gets involved with medical meetings is as a source for speakers and presenters. “We don’t operate a formal speaker’s bureau, but if someone calls, we’ll put them in touch with the right people,” says Gallivan. NHCC also has hosted receptions at medical conventions, designed educational programs for meetings and helped arrange behind-the-scenes tours of local medical facilities for groups.

The council is not formally affiliated with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, but Anetha Grant, vice president of convention sales and marketing for the bureau, says its presence has benefited meetings business in the city. “Although [the NHCC was] not developed to bring in conventions, they know it is a role they play,” she says. “The fact that the major medical leaders are involved in the community makes a difference for us.”

Healthy relationships
Although most cities do not have a formal health-care congress, a growing number of CVBs are strengthening relationships with their local medical communities as a way to attract and serve meetings business.

“We have local hospitals as members, and we stay in constant touch with the medical community,” says Tom Getzke, director of sales and marketing for the Saint Paul (Minn.) Convention & Visitors Bureau. “For cities that have outstanding medical facilities, it makes sense to turn to them as a resource.” The Saint Paul CVB frequently puts planners in touch with local medical facilities or such groups as the Minnesota Medical Alley, a statewide medical trade association that is a source of speakers and other services.

Similarly, the Greater Buffalo (N.Y) Convention & Visitors Bureau maintains a close working relationship with local facilities such as the Roswell Cancer Center and the medical and dental schools at the University of Buffalo. The CVB invites local medical leaders on site inspections of hotels and meeting facilities, urging them to persuade medical groups to meet in the city.

“There’s a lot of outreach going on,” says Buffalo bureau president Richard Geiger. “It benefits all concerned.”

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