With 600 poster sessions, 300 didactic sessions covering all practice areas, and 325 exhibitors, the conference is the largest gathering of occupational therapy practitioners in the world, according to AOTA Director of Conferences Frank Gainer, providing an opportunity for students, clinicians, and academics to “earn continuing education, network, and hear from leaders in the field.”
“We’re a recession-proof occupation,” Gainer said. “The past couple of years, we’ve had some of our largest conferences ever.” But with a healthy increase in attendance — AOTA usually sees more than 6,000 delegates — comes a whole new set of challenges.
After recent bookings in the Midwest and on the East Coast, the organization will host its 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, which is not as easily accessible for many AOTA attendees. “The thing that has me most worried about San Diego is what airfare is going to be,” Gainer said. “If we’re in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, or Midwest, there is a fair amount of drive-in. San Diego doesn’t afford us that.”
Gainer expects attendance to decrease by about 1,000 because of the location, but the upside is that while the conference usually doesn’t see a big international draw, he hopes San Diego’s proximity to Asia will change that. “We’ve got speakers coming from the U.K., Canada, and Australia so far,” he said.
Some challenges will remain the same as in years past. “It’s always a challenge to make sure we’ve got the right kind of program,” Gainer said, “because we’re such a diverse field. … We’re doing something right, because we’ve been growing.”
“Our conference is usually very much driven by what [session ideas are] submitted,” Gainer said. “Out of 900 sessions, only about 60 to 70 are invited; the rest come from whatever is submitted.” For the 2013 Annual Conference, AOTA received a record number of submissions — more than 1,600. “The profession [of occupational therapy] will be 100 years old in 2017,” Gainer said. “So everything keeps focusing towards that ‘Centennial Vision.’”
Another ongoing goal of AOTA is to “appeal to our advanced-level practitioners,” Gainer said. By structuring the content differently this year, AOTA will highlight what’s most important for the more experienced attendees. “We’re having a lot of three-hour workshops that need to be at the intermediate or advanced level, rather than at the beginner.”
AOTA also will be sure to make room for the increased attendance on “Tech Day” — an all-day event where delegates can “go around and look at high-tech and low-tech adaptive devices that therapists can use with their patients, computer programs, [and] things of that sort,” Gainer said. “It’s very popular.” About a thousand attendees stop by the Tech Day workstations. “I just enjoy seeing it all come together,” Gainer said, “seeing members’ and attendees’ excitement.”
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.