My Conference Experience: Behind the Scenes with DeLonda Y. Dowling, BA

March 10, 2023

DeLonda Y. Dowling serves as Executive Assistant to ACGME Chief of Staff and Chief Education Officer Timothy P. Brigham, MDiv, MS, PhD and also as Awards Liaison, managing all of the ACGME’s awards, except the Barbara Ross-Lee award (which is managed by the staff of the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), though there is collaboration on certain logistics related to that award as well. When she began working with the Awards Program in 2009, there were only three (John C. Gienapp, Courage to Teach, and Courage to Lead), and her work related to awards was seasonal. The ACGME’s Awards Program is now much bigger and more robust, with eight ACGME awards as well as two awards that the ACGME gives jointly with other organizations (the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the New York Academy of Medicine). Ms. Dowling’s work on the Awards Program is now a full-time, year-long job. As relates to the Annual Educational Conference, Ms. Dowling works on all the details and logistics for the Awards Reception and Ceremony. Additionally, she plans and co-facilitates a private educational session for awardees past and present. For 2023, she also added “Speaker” to the tally of ribbons attached to her badge, presenting as part of the Coordinator Forum Full-Day Course. We asked her to share her experience.

ACGME: How long have you been with the ACGME and involved with the Annual Educational Conference?

Ms. Dowling: I was hired on a temp-to-perm basis in November 2008 and became a full-time ACGME employee in February 2009, just days before my first Annual Educational Conference. For liability purposes, I had to be an ACGME employee before attending the conference, and I made it in the nick of time! Back then, we had just rolled out the evaluation kiosks (yes, there were actual machines that attendees used to evaluate sessions in order to get CME!), so I worked the kiosks to provide assistance and also to remind/encourage registrants to complete the evaluations as they left the sessions (though mostly I was there to answer the question, “where are the restrooms?”). In 2011, I began working with Marsha Miller and Amy Beane on the Awards Ceremony in addition to assisting with the kiosks and serving as session moderator until we stopped doing that. Finally, I collaborate with colleagues in Educational Activities and Communications to refine Dr. Brigham’s conference PowerPoints!

ACGME: This year you added session presenter to your list of conference roles – how did that change your conference experience?

Dowling: Being a speaker greatly changed my conference experience! I had the opportunity to present with Karen McCausland, a past GME Institutional Coordinator Excellence Awardee, and LaToya Wright, a past Debra L. Dooley GME Program Coordinator Excellence Awardee. We began preparing in August 2022. Along the way, I gained greater insight into the institutional and program coordinator roles. The presentation showed me that I have even more to offer to the graduate medical education community (there were about 1,700 coordinators in attendance at the session!) than I thought as the presentation resonated with so many of the attendees. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from colleagues and coordinators alike.

ACGME: How did you find the in-person conference as compared to the virtual events we held the last two years as far as your own personal experience and in terms of your role?

Dowling: From a logistical standpoint, the work for in-person and virtual conferences is nearly identical. The main differences were that I didn’t have to ship anything for a virtual experience, but neither did I get to accumulate about 16,000 steps per day!

ACGME: When do you begin preparing for the Annual Educational Conference?

Dowling: Typically I begin preparing around September each year. That is when awardees are selected, notified, and I start communicating with them about the conference.

ACGME: What’s the hardest part of your job as it relates to the conference?

Dowling: Ensuring that the many tasks related to the Awards events and shipping of materials are done accurately and in a timely manner. I am a department of one, and unfortunately sometimes things slip through the cracks.

ACGME: What do you enjoy the most about the experience?

Dowling: What I most enjoy is seeing awardees being recognized and celebrated for their contributions. It’s made even more meaningful for them because they are able to receive their awards in front of not only their peers, but family as well. On a personal note, I enjoy seeing it all come together and seemingly flawlessly done outwardly (though I know better!).

ACGME: What is an average day like for you at the conference?

Dowling: All of the awardee events usually take place on the same day, so the day before and day of are often pretty hectic. I work with our events team in coordinating the transport of all of the awards materials to the appropriate rooms, but we can only do so when those rooms become available after other sessions. Thereafter, I attend the plenary sessions and any others that allow ACGME staff member attendance.

ACGME: Anything you’re already thinking about doing or planning for differently for next year?

Dowling: Nothing specific presently, though there are normally little tweaks here and there that need to be made along the way. There is always room for improvement.

ACGME: What do you do after a conference is over?

Dowling: The deadline for awards nomination submissions for the upcoming year is usually within a week or two after the Annual Educational Conference—time to start the cycle all over again!

ACGME: Anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t covered yet?

Dowling: There are a lot of moving parts to the Awards Ceremony events at the conference (it’s kind of like planning a wedding every year!). Fortunately, my dear colleague Melissa Lynn has assisted me on site with preparing the ceremony space, and I just couldn’t do it without her!