Heartland Conference 2016: Organizers seek member input on speakers and course topics before Jan. 16

Posted on in Education/Training

By Dorothy de Souza Guedes, VGM Education

For most, Heartland Conference is three days of education, networking, and socializing in Waterloo, Iowa, each summer. But for VGM Education, Heartland is a year-round effort to ensure members receive the training needed to run a business and care for patients. Input from members on past speakers and suggestions for future topics help organizers focus each year’s educational offerings.

“We’re still determining what the hot topics are for 2016,” said Sara Laures, vice president of VGM Education and a 15-year member of the conference planning team. “Our database of speakers is always evolving based on the industry. We’re always trying to add fresh new faces and topics, but part of the appeal of Heartland is those speakers who come back year after year.”

The 15th annual Heartland Conference will be June 13-16 in Waterloo, Iowa. Although every VGM division plays a role in organizing the conference, VGM Education is tasked with developing and implementing the educational components, including recruiting speakers and tracking CEUs earned. Planning for 2016 speakers began immediately after the June 2015 conference with a review of Heartland course surveys.

“It's worth the effort to plan in order to ensure a successful conference. Most CEU bodies require a formal process with a needs assessment, planning committee that contains industry experts, and tracking and reporting mechanisms,” Laures said.

Conference education tracks have expanded from four in 2001 – Rehab, Respiratory/HME, Orthotic and Prosthetic, and Case Management – to nine in 2015 including Compliance, Products & Technology, and Billing & Reimbursement. Rather than reinvent the conference’s educational offerings each year, certain education tracks, such as Rehab and Respiratory, have remained constant although the course subject matter may change.

“If we just arbitrarily threw together the educational tracks, then Heartland Conference wouldn't have as many repeat attendees. Our members trust that they will receive many contact hours and quality education, in just a few days and at a very affordable price,” Laures said.

“We know what the categories will be, but the specific topics won’t be determined until closer to the conference,” Laures said.

Those specific topics are determined, in part, by the database VGM Education has created of more than 400 presenters. To build the list, conference planners rely on referrals from members and VGM department heads and others at VGM who attend conferences and other industry events throughout the year.

Occasionally, new recruitment strategies are implemented. For example, to expand on the potential conference speakers list several years ago Laures actively reviewed industry publications to seek bylines of authors on key topics then added them to the speaker database.

With the creation of Heartland Conference education subcommittees in 2014, experts from divisions within VGM were formally organized to collaborate with and advise Lori Schilling, manager of education services, and Laures on education track and course topic development. The subcommittee process will continue this year.

“The creation of educational track subcommittees have allowed us to gather input from various divisions within VGM Group. The subcommittees are comprised of various VGM employee owners who are in touch with our members on a regular basis,” Laures said. “They are having conversations about our members' business needs, challenges, and growth opportunities. As a result, these subcommittee members can look at Heartland Conference submissions from different perspectives and make thoughtful recommendations for a successful education program.”

Any referrals are vetted before being added to the database to ensure quality presenters. After the annual call for presentations email is sent in mid-November, potential speakers may submit an application with a session outline, learning objectives, and other information needed to assess courses for continuing education credit.

And if there’s a late-breaking industry need to be addressed during Heartland Conference 2016? “We’ll fit them in,” said Laures. “We’d rearrange the schedule to make it work.”

What you need to know

To suggest a seminar topic or refer a speaker, email Lori Schilling, manager of education services, VGM Education, at [email protected]. Deadline is Jan. 16.

Early Bird Special registration through March 26 for Heartland 2016. Registration opens January 1.

Keep up to date on the latest Heartland Conference 2016 news at or find us on Facebook at VGM Heartland and Twitter @VGMHeartland.