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A Primer on Conducting and Attending Meetings


Doctors do not like to go to meetings - just like most other folks. But with most docs now being employed and medical practices shifting to the team model, more meetings are in our future.

Doctors do not like to go to meetings — just like most other folks.

But with most docs now being employed and medical practices shifting to the team model, more meetings are in our future. Unfortunately, we have no training for organizational affairs, as I always beat the drum to say. And the more time we spend in meetings, the less patient care we can deliver and, more to the point of PMD, the less revenue we can generate. Poorly run meetings can get very expensive in the long run. So let's go through a basic primer.

Step by step

There are four kinds of meetings. In descending order of utility and frequency for docs they are: informational, decision making, creative and motivational. There are standing committees for regular, recurring management issues and there are ad hoc groups to accomplish a specific task.

Once we know the type, the next step is to state a goal for the meeting. Only then can we establish an agenda to accomplish the goal. As in all things, planning is the key to a successful meeting — hopefully, to avoid wasting everyone's time, which sets a bad precedent and tone for the future. Give people timely notice with any materials that would help them prepare, such as minutes from the last meeting, new reports, etc. A last-minute reminder wouldn't hurt, either.

It always helps if you can set the stage by getting the most conducive space available and setting up the chairs, tables, water, pads, audio-visual equipment, etc., ahead of time. Designate someone to take notes. These things sound minor, but they set a professional, no-nonsense tone that everyone appreciates.

And it's very important to start and finish on time. Meetings always work best if you can limit the time — ideally to 30 minutes or less. To do this, you have to stick to the agenda. People love to digress and hold forth on their beloved off-agenda gripes, so smile and bring everyone back to focus on why the meeting was called.

It is important to encourage everyone to have their say, to participate and to get "buy-in." Feedback is always vital. Restate and clarify what was said by each person so at the end of the meeting your summary will be inclusive and understood all around.

Then review what the action items are for the next get-together and when and where the next meeting will be, if possible. Don't forget to sincerely thank everyone. It will be noticed and appreciated. Finally, send out the notes afterward as a reminder and refresher for on-going activity.

As an attendee

The flip side of this is getting the most value out of any meeting that you attend but are not running.

Rule one: do not be late. You must set a standard for your professional persona or your "brand," and being late always sends a negative message. So get your sleep, for one thing. If some unavoidable delay does come up, inform those involved as soon as possible. When you arrive, smile, apologize, give a very brief explanation and sit down.

Rule two: pay attention. Do not fall asleep or consult your phone, which you should have previously shut off. It is wise to go to the toilet before the meeting, have some caffeine if you need it and review the questions and comments that you have prepared ahead of time. Pick a "smart" seat facing the leader, toward the center.

Stay engaged, speak up, take notes of your own and appear at ease. If you feel yourself losing it, squeeze the acupressure point between your first two digits to get back to alertness. All this kind of stuff actually matters in the end, which we might intuitively know, but will learn for ourselves if we already haven't.

One last note

I am going to end our primer on meetings on a possibly inflammatory note, to wake you up. This last weekend, Doonesbury paraphrased some unnamed source to state that "The more women there are in a group, the more intelligent it is." That's because "Group IQ doesn't correlate with the average IQ of its members, it correlates with emotional intelligence."

Sounds like a good topic for a meeting…

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice