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Orthodontists from all over the world will convene in Chicago this weekend for the American Association of Orthodontists Annual Session. There will be more learning opportunities available in the next four days than anyone has the available bandwidth or attention span, even if you cloned yourself twice, to obtain in four months. So, what are the most effective and efficient strategies to get the most out of your continuing education efforts? Here are a few simple tips I've observed over the years that have worked well for me:

First, align your objectives and expectations with the type of meeting.

Online CE courses and webinars are great, but they fail to offer one important component that in-person meetings deliver: networking. Get your questions answered live from experts in the field and learn from what others in the room are asking. If you come to Chicago this weekend and leave without having your biggest questions answered, you've come on a fool's errand. If you leave Chicago without a handful of contacts who can help you overcome your current challenges and leverage existing opportunities, you've come on a fool's errand.

Don't spend too much time in one place. The lecture rooms are great, but so is the exhibition floor. The gadgets and new technology are amazing, but so are the scientific presentations and alumni receptions. Mix it up and diversify your meeting routine. If you tend to hang out in one area of the annual session, make it a point this year to do something different. You might be surprised who you meet and what you learn that can completely change your mind about something important in your life or business.

Second, carve out some time for peer to peer learning.

It's great to catch up with colleagues and friends at annual meetings and doubly important to embrace a diverse group of people in your peer-to-peer learning circle, so that you can use each other as a trusted sounding board. If something is working in California, New York and Iowa, it's probably something worth paying attention to or at least asking your peers to share their experience with you.

Tip: try not to write off all advice from companies as "biased" or a "sales pitch." We all have phones in our pockets, clothes on our backs, cars in our driveways, hotel brands and restaurants we love in the Windy City and we don't see those companies as "biased" or "trying to sell us something," so don't be too hasty to write off something a peer or key opinion leader recommends as untrustworthy.

Years ago, I worked for an orthodontist who refused to take meetings with sales representatives. He liked to "make up his own mind" and make purchasing decisions without any influence. That's fine, I suppose, but over the years I've found the sales reps and leaders inside corporations to be some of the smartest people in the room. You don't have to listen to everything a company says, but to write it all off as biased or "unscientific" is not only factually inaccurate but akin to putting your head in the sand.

Does anyone else wish they could go back in time to 1998 and listen a lot more carefully to Align Technology? Bottom line: you'll learn about these new companies and advancements by asking your peers, testing, measuring your results and sharing openly without fear of ridicule or competitive secrecy, so share openly with your peers and lean on them often. That's how we make forward progress.

Third, encourage one another.

If you're like me, you probably have a large stack of journal articles sitting on your desk at home or in the office (or both!) and if you've taken the time to dog-ear the pages of your favorite journal or tear out an article and pass it along to friends, spend one extra minute and learn about the authors. If you see one of these colleagues on the trade show floor or in a meeting, take a moment to introduce yourself and thank them for their contribution to the profession.

It might not seem like much, but I can tell you from personal experience how important and impactful a simple word of kindness can be, especially at the right time when a writer, content creator, researcher or teacher can start to feel as though their contributions are insignificant in a large sea of knowledge.

The collaborative and supportive nature of orthodontics was one of the many reasons why I hoped and prayed one day I would get the chance to become an orthodontist. Like any sought-after specialty, we sometimes slip into a mindset of scarcity and competitiveness, but our best moments and opportunities come from being open, brutally honest with ourselves and our purpose, and generous in mind and spirit. A simple word of encouragement is sometimes all it takes to rekindle our best attributes.

Fourth, mentor someone.

Whether you've been practicing orthodontics for 40 years or you're just entering residency, there's someone who hopes to be in your shoes one day. When that person asks you a question or genuinely seeks your experience and opinion, be generous. Today's technology makes it really easy and simple to share your feedback, to review something another colleague has been working on and to give back in the same way someone helped you early in your career.

I get emails and questions from Burleson Seminars non-stop and most of them can be answered in a moment's time. Like this one from a member this morning who was looking for clinical and administrative checklists. I couldn't remember where those documents were stored on our company drive, but Tyler found it with a simple image search. It doesn't take much to share and get back to people, especially with everything in the cloud nowadays.

You can probably answer a colleague's question or request from your phone while watching the game at the bar if you really needed to. Remember, someone took the time to help you early in your career. Pay it forward.


If you go into any large in-person meeting with these four objectives in mind, you won't have to worry about the fear of missing out on some amazing lecture or specific topic or speaker that you really want to see. Every topic, every speaker and every opportunity will become meaningful. And that's the big idea and lesson here. When you're not overly-invested in the outcome of a particular topic, presentation or speaker, you'll find a way to gain knowledge and wisdom from every experience, lecture and interaction. It's a surefire way to be a positive influence to those around you. That's what makes these meetings great.

Have a fantastic time in Chicago!

— Dustin Burleson, DDS, MBA

2 Responses to “ Continuing Education Strategy ”

  1. Nino Gullotta says:

    Thanks Dustin , a lot of great pearls here

    • Burleson Seminars says:

      Hi Nino, thanks for your kind words! I’m glad you found this useful. Hope to see you at a live event sometime soon – Dustin

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