Dr. Robert J. O’Donnell is General Chair of the 2021 Hinman Dental Meeting, March 12-13, and has practiced dentistry in Alpharetta, Georgia for more than 30 years.

To Meet or Not to Meet? That is the Question


I don’t think any of us could have imagined how much COVID-19 was going to impact our lives or that we would still be dealing with it almost a year later. Last March, we had to cancel the 2020 Hinman Dental Meeting and then alert all 20,000+ registered attendees and exhibitors with only a week until the start of the meeting. It was a huge undertaking to undo years of work, but we are confident that it was the right decision.

Since then, we’ve all personally and professionally tried to find a “new normal,” while still providing dental care to our patients. In the medical profession, we not only have a responsibility to serve our patients, but also to meet our continuing education requirements. Dental students face a similar dilemma. They have already invested significantly in their education and they must continue on – pandemic or not.

Over the past few months, the Hinman Dental Meeting staff and leadership (myself included) have been asking ourselves, “Do we meet or not meet this March?” It’s a tough question because we learn something new every day and there are so many factors to consider. Over the summer, we began the process of evaluating our options and asking our members and attendees what they need from us. This is what we learned:

  • Almost 70% of our attendees want to attend in person. We surveyed our previous attendees, exhibitors and speakers and found that, if given the opportunity, the majority would attend an in-person meeting if COVID-19 protocols are in place. This result shouldn’t be surprising given that dentists and dental professionals have become accustomed to and are comfortable with current safety protocols. They are confident that Hinman would comply during an in-person meeting.
  • If possible, a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning is optimal. A hybrid meeting will allow those who need and want hands-on learning to attend in person and those who are not comfortable traveling to complete their CE virtually. Given the current environment, a hybrid meeting appears to be the best option for the majority of our attendees.
  • 39% say content and learning are most valuable with an event online. In a Freeman survey, respondents also want new, valuable content in digital CE. Our world-class speakers are committed to providing unique and innovative courses both in-person and virtually. Hinman is fortunate to have strong relationships with many of the industry’s foremost experts, making it possible to offer quality educational sessions you can’t get anywhere else. Many speakers already offer a mix of in-person and virtual courses, and those who don’t are now developing robust virtual CE courses in response to growing demand.
  • A virtual component means more people can experience Hinman. We’ve learned a lot in our search for an online CE partner, and are looking forward to delivering a unique experience to many who may have never attended Hinman. It also serves those who are at risk or unable to take time off and/or travel.

Sylvia Ratchford, our long-time executive director and Annette Sullivan, our incoming executive director, have worked tirelessly with the Hinman staff to select an online CE provider and have chosen Freeman, a partner that has worked with Hinman for over a decade in organizing and operating the meeting. One of the most compelling offerings they bring to the table is “Networking Powered by Grip.” It’s an artificial-intelligence matchmaking engine that identifies relevant people, products, exhibitors and sponsors for someone to meet. It’s an intuitive tool that makes it easy to connect with others and schedule meetings, virtual or in-person. Creating meaningful connections has always been critical at meetings like Hinman. And, for students, connections are even more critical as you are determining your career path and seeking important information to begin your journey in the dental profession.

If there is one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that we have to be flexible and able to pivot when necessary. There are many factors that remain constant. People continue to need quality dental care even during a pandemic. We can’t stop practicing dentistry nor can we stop learning about new developments and expanding our skills. Continuing education meetings like Hinman will always play an important role in dentistry and we are excited to be able to offer attendees and exhibitors valuable ways to connect during these unprecedented times.

As dental professionals who need continuing education, I encourage you to take advantage of meetings like Hinman, whether they are offered virtually, in-person or both. They will provide you valuable opportunities, such as:

  • Innovative content and trailblazing topics provided by the foremost dental experts in the world.
  • Hands-on learning opportunities offered in small group settings.
  • Powerful networking events that help propel your career forward.
  • A community of professionals who are always willing to share information, mentor and provide advice to future dentists.
  • A reliable avenue for future learning with countless opportunities for growth and discovery.

While we can’t predict how 2021 will unfold, we know that we will need to be creative in our approach. A lot has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but our commitment to bringing you world-class CE and exhibits is the same.