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Regional Conference Builds Community Among Medical Writers

By Sarah Markel

More than seventy medical communicators from a variety of disciplines gathered on March 14, 2014 for the AMWA Mid-Atlantic Chapter's annual conference. Participants filled the corridors and conference rooms of the Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center in Maryland to complete AMWA certificate requirements and learn new skills. More importantly, the conference provided a friendly setting for writers to interact with peers as part of a community of like-minded professionals.

Attendees represented the regulatory, scientific editing, pharmaceutical advertising, and consumer health writing industries. Although this is a regional conference, at least four other chapters were represented with participants coming from as far away as New York, Michigan, and South Carolina.

Several chapter members offered workshops. Nicole Van Hoey taught a session entitled "Sifting Through Styles: A Functional Comparison of AMA, CMS, and APA for Medical Communicators." This highly successful workshop will be offered in a slightly revised format at the 74th AMWA Annual Conference in October as a credit workshop. Its new title will be "Establishing Style: Exploring and Developing In-House Guides."

Debra Gordon offered an open session entitled "White Papers: How, Why, and What They Mean for the Healthcare Industry." Associate Chapter Conference Coordinator Devin Gary led a workshop that outlined key steps to use in the Institution Review Board (IRB) application process. During the "Ask a Freelancer" panel discussion, three writers shared expertise in freelance regulatory writing, medical advertising, and writing for lay audiences, in addition to answering questions about reaching new markets and setting fair prices.

The diverse range of offerings was intentional. "The conference planning committee worked hard to develop a conference that met the needs of our chapter membership," explained Chapter Conference Coordinator Tracy Warren. "For instance, this year we updated the format of the conference to include 90 minute workshops in addition to the regular three-hour workshops."

The new format allowed for a greater variety of topics and ensured that the presenters had time to network throughout the day, explained Volunteer Coordinator Cherie Dewar. "I think it worked extremely well."

In addition, the conference included eight well-attended breakfast roundtable discussions. Topics included briefings, tips on searching the National Library of Medicine, and insider advice from InSeption Group on how to impress hiring managers. AMWA's Membership Manager and Database Coordinator, Ann Silveira, showed new members how to navigate the new AMWA online discussion forums.

The conference also offered opportunities for AMWA members to gain credit toward medical writing certificates. AMWA Past-President Cindy Hamilton, PharmD, ELS taught both credit workshops. Essential Ethics for Medical Communicators (2006) fulfilled a requirement for the Essential Skills Certificate. Writing Abstracts (3019) fulfilled requirements for the Composition and Publication Certificate, as well as for two older AMWA core certificate programs.

Between teaching these three-hour classes, Dr. Hamilton delivered an inspiring keynote address. While chapter members enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch, she spoke movingly of the obligation of all medical communicators to uphold and raise the standards of the profession by exceeding conventional ethical requirements—especially when it comes to handling scientific information. This presentation was a condensed version of her Swanberg Award acceptance speech delivered at the AMWA national conference in November 2013.

"We were honored to have Cindy Hamilton teach the AMWA credit workshops this year and provide our keynote speech," said Ms. Warren. "I want to thank Cindy for her commitment to teaching professionalism in medical writing and for helping to make this year's conference a success."

Many chapter members say they benefitted as much from the opportunity to share their expertise with peers as they did from the more obvious opportunities to polish their presentation skills, gain visibility in their respective fields, and network with fellow writers.

"That is one of the most exciting aspects of this organization," noted Chapter President Jill Roberts. "Although we are all coming from different backgrounds, everyone has something to contribute. As a group we can help one another become better at what we do."

To learn more about AMWA 74th Annual National Conference, which will be held October 8-11, 2014 in Memphis, Tenn., go to http://www.amwa.org/events_annual_conference.

2014 AMWA-MAC Chapter Conference Coordinators