In November 2022, I posted an idea I had for publication on the Sex-And Gender-Based Women’s Health Education Interest Group (SGWEIG) GIM Connect Forum. Within a few days, I had 22 replies and 10 people interested in collaborating. The respondents represented a diverse group of faculty from institutions across the country at many different stages of their careers. Over the next six months, this dynamic group of women’s health experts met virtually to outline ideas for an opinion piece. We debated controversies and engaged in iterative consensus building through emails, phone calls, and zoom meetings. We eventually came to agree on a unified approach and submitted our manuscript for publication, which is currently under review.
Many members of the group have known one another for years. As an early-career academic clinician who recently re-joined the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM), I never met any of them in-person. As the annual meeting approached, my anticipation grew. I attended American College of Physicians (ACP) annual meetings every year since I finished residency, and always looked forward to them. I enjoyed looking through the program, choosing what I wanted to learn, and going to all the lectures and workshops I could fit into my schedule. However, there was something more exciting about attending the SGIM annual meeting now that I formed collaborative relationships with a group of colleagues who share my interests and passions.
For this hometown meeting, I arrived at the Gaylord of the Rockies, a 25-minute drive from my home, just in time for breakfast on the first day of the meeting. I found a colleague from the University of Colorado and sat down with my much-needed coffee. My colleague introduced me to the person on her left, a friend from fellowship, and her friend’s eyes immediately lit up. It was one of my SGWEIG collaborators! We both got up right away and hugged one another, expressing how amazing it was to meet in person after all our virtual interactions. We reflected on our current project and shared new ideas. I felt encouraged and energized.
I had similar heartfelt interactions with all the members of this amazing workgroup who were able to attend the annual meeting, each one excited to meet me. Our conversations were stimulating and as a result new ideas emerged. I left each meeting day, inspired as I reflected on the wonderful relationships I built, that were enhanced by this opportunity to meet one another in-person—dynamics changed and relationships deepened. Our united focus on women’s health advocacy allowed us to connect on a deeper level more quickly, moving past surface level conversation to the topics that are most meaningful to us in medicine, a process needed for successful network building.1 After this meeting, I was filled with enthusiasm and new ideas for symposia, workshops, and publications inspired by the people I talked to and the sessions I attended. But more importantly, I felt fulfilled, reflecting on the personal network of colleagues and mentors I was developing.
My experience is certainly not unique. Belonging to professional organizations and attending in-person national meetings has been identified as an important aspect of building a meaningful career in academic health professions.2 Attending professional meetings has been called an evolutionary process, with the first few years generally focused on going to scheduled sessions and presenting academic work.2 As time progresses, this participation creates opportunities to develop a personal network, which provides career support, mentorship, and coaching and creates safe spaces for personal and professional development.2, 3
Networking comes more naturally to some than others. Not all of us feel comfortable walking up to a presenter after their talk at the national meeting to shake hands and exchange business cards. One way to meet colleagues and mentors before the national meeting is by joining group forums on GIM Connect. This allows SGIM members to follow interest groups that align with their career goals and message with other members of that group. This is how I found the 10 amazing colleagues in SGWEIG, now integral members of my personal network.
This annual meeting hallmarked a major growth period in my career. The supportive and inclusive colleagues and mentors I met though SGIM SGWEIG are a major catalyst for this growth. While a similar evolution may have occurred via ongoing virtual interactions, I do not think these relationships would be as deep or as meaningful without the opportunity to interact in person at the annual meeting. As we begin to discuss the role and utility of national meetings, especially in the wake of climate change and our carbon footprint, I hope we can still find ways to connect in person to foster the growth of meaningful personal networks.