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July 01, 2020

Health Law Connections

Young Professionals—Three Positives of Professional Development During a Pandemic

  • July 01, 2020
  • Mara Smith , Bristol Myers Squibb

When I set out my professional development goals for 2020, I envisioned that networking events, in-person conferences, and one-on-one coffee meetings would enhance and enrich my experience as a third-year attorney. However, by the end of March, I realized that my approach to professional development would have to adjust to a world rapidly changing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In reworking my vision for professional development during a pandemic, I found three positives.

1. No Geographic Barriers

One of the best and worst parts about being a member of AHLA’s Young Professionals Council (YPC) is that many of my favorite colleagues live in various cities across the country. While this makes reunions at AHLA in-person programs like Fundamentals of Health Law and the Annual Meeting highlights of my year, it also means that I miss connecting with my colleagues in those “in-between” months after we retreat back to our hometowns and busy lives. Living and working during COVID-19 has revealed something that should have been readily apparent long before the pandemic confined many of us to our homes: we can connect “face to face” with anyone, anywhere, at any time using video-chatting platforms. This reality has opened previously untapped opportunities for remote happy hours and coffee meetings with friends and colleagues around the globe. Through this new way of life, I have had the ability to pursue a much wider range of professional development opportunities that might not otherwise have been options for me based on my geographic location.

2. More Flexible Timing

Prior to the pandemic, whether it was late nights in the office or after-hours networking events, it was difficult to find time to set up one-on-one or even small group meetings that supported professional development. Often, such meetings were scheduled months in advance using a system of “scheduling Tetris” that involved sending multiple emails in an attempt to find a window of time that would allow for travel from one location to another while ensuring sufficient time for the meeting. Without diminishing the value of these in-person meetings, the pandemic has given many the gift of time. The “commute” from work to a meeting often involves the closing of one internet browser and the opening of another. This has removed some of the rushed undertones that can accompany in-person meetings during busy weeks and has allowed participants to literally meet where they are.

3. Narrowly Focused Programming

Before the pandemic, I would base my professional development activities on a variety of factors including location, timing, and topic. While I was lucky enough to live in a major U.S. city with plenty of options, these other factors often limited the types of events I could attend. With an increase in virtual professional development events, I have been able to attend the types of events that enrich my professional development without the burden of location and with much less restrictive timing constraints. These virtual events have also allowed me to explore areas that interest me without having to devote significant resources to attending and learning more about a topic.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for young attorneys navigating professional development, I have seen how the shift to virtual professional development has exposed new opportunities. And although I cannot wait to share a drink with my YPC colleagues at an in-person AHLA program, I am grateful that there are still options to do that (at 5:00pm Eastern, 4:00pm Central, 3:00pm Mountain, and 2:00pm Pacific) from the safety of our homes.