Moving STFM Conferences and Events: New STFM Policy and the Thinking Behind It

May 25, 2022Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2019, STFM has been forced to move and reschedule multiple conferences and meetings to ensure the safety of our members and staff. Our STFM hotel contract includes a force majeure clause that allowed STFM to move and/or reschedule an event based on a number of specific reasons.

With more individuals vaccinated and travel restrictions changing, our hotel partners’ willingness to cancel agreements due to the pandemic is severely limited. Combined with the growing number of social issues that generate suggestions from members to use STFM conferences as leverage to advocate for change, the STFM Board of Directors agreed additional guidance for making decisions was needed along with enhanced communication with members on the circumstances that would trigger moving a conference from a contracted location.

Certainly, consideration of the specific circumstances for each situation will be required; however, this policy provides some guidance to educate our members and leadership. Some of this language has been included in our hotel contracts for years. What’s particularly notable is the added policy related to how STFM will respond to requests to move conferences based primarily on state legislation regarding social issues as well as factors that influenced the board’s thinking.

STFM Policy on Moving and/or Rescheduling STFM Conferences and Events

Approved by the STFM Board of Directors - December 2, 2021

 STFM will move and/or reschedule a conference, meeting, or event:

  • If any circumstances make it inadvisable, illegal, impossible, or commercially unreasonable to proceed with the official STFM event, STFM would advise moving the event to another location. If another location with comparable facilities is not available, STFM may be forced to cancel the event or move it to a virtual offering. The STFM Board will make the final decision on whether to move or cancel an STFM conference. Examples of such circumstances would include:
    • Declaration of pandemic or infectious disease by the US government/CDC, or the World Health Organization where the health and safety of our members and staff are compromised due to this pandemic/disease
    • US government declared war
    • Actual, threatened, or suspected terrorism as declared by US government
    • Civil disorder in the city of the event
    • US government travel restrictions and/or curtailment of transportation facilities preventing the majority of attendees from arriving at event
    • Threat of imminent natural disaster (such as the event city being in the projected path of a hurricane) interferes with event location operations, or the ability of the majority of attendees to travel safely to the event site.
  • These logistical concerns, based on our hotel cancellation language, may trigger STFM to move a meeting. These include:
    • Major construction that would detract from the educational focus of the conference or meeting
    • Strike and/or labor disputes at the event venue
    • Bankruptcy or change in ownership management such that there is concern that the owners could not meet the obligations of the contract
    • The inability of the Hotel or other contracted event venue(s) to provide the agreed upon facilities required for the event
  • When considering cancelling a hotel contract, serious consideration will be given to the amount of the cancellation penalty and the willingness of the hotel or event site to release STFM from these financial penalties as outlined in the event contract.
  • Rather than boycotting a state, STFM should consider opportunities for community engagement to support local faculty in the area by bringing our presence to a city/state.

STFM will not move and/or reschedule a conference, meeting, or event if:

  • Local city/state legislation and laws infringe on the beliefs of some STFM members.
  • Local city/state stance on social issues infringes on the beliefs of some STFM members.

Background That Factored Into the Board’s Decision

  • As a business practice, STFM leadership has agreed it should not use moving conference locations due to concerns raised about legislation in a particular state as an advocacy tool to promote change. STFM contracts its conference venues 3-5 years in advance. The list of political and social issues that could trigger such requests from members is long and includes gun carry legislation, voting rights laws, immigration laws, gender equity issues, women’s health rights, and more. A few years ago, a group of members were advocating for STFM to move the Conference on Medical Student Education from Georgia due to new legislation in Atlanta on open carry gun laws (bearing visible firearms in public). As of December 2021, 42 states allow for open carry for some or all firearms. The current environment of numerous states adding more restrictive language related to abortion access is another example of an issue where STFM would have a difficult time predicting and/or avoiding meeting in states where legislation is a concern for some of our members.
  • STFM has learned from the experience of Association of Departments of Family Medicine. The ADFM Board has also created guidelines for when they will consider canceling a contract and moving an ADFM conference. The intent is for ADFM to be less reactionary to requests to move conferences based on local social/political concerns.
  • If defaulting from signed hotel agreements to shift our conference site based on current local concerns becomes our standard approach for the Society to advocate for change, we could easily find ourselves with a short list of states to hold a conference, limited options of hotels that will work with us and/or have the space requirements to meet our needs, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in hotel penalties to make these late shifts. Having a reputation for pulling contracts for social issues makes it difficult for the Society to build good relationships with hotel chain representatives and negotiate favorable rates, features, and contract language that benefit STFM members.
  • The fees for canceling a hotel contract can be incredibly steep and although our reserves may be able to cover a cancelation if truly necessary, we do not have the funds to cancel events repeatedly. For example, if STFM would have cancelled our agreement with our 2022 Annual Spring Conference hotel, the penalty for STFM would have been $950,265.
  • STFM has a core value of openness and a diverse membership, some of whom suggest STFM is too liberal and assumes all members feel the same way about issues. We've learned from membership surveys and conversations that some members want us to stay out of social issues and focus on faculty and leadership development and curricular issues that advance family medicine. We have members with conservative perspectives, and STFM must respect and hear their voices as well.
  • STFM conferences also have an impact on the workers at these properties and the local businesses, many of whom represent diverse communities. 
  • Rather than boycotting a state, STFM will consider opportunities for community engagement to support local faculty in the area by bringing our presence to a city/state.


As a first step, this policy and the thinking behind it was shared with attendees in a town hall style session at the 2022 Annual Spring Conference and was facilitated by Program Committee Chair Netra Thakur, MD, then President Aaron Michelfelder, MD, and STFM Executive Director and CEO Stacy Brungardt, CAE. The conversation provided a productive exchange of ideas and information for future research and conversations.

This article is an effort to share the policy and thinking to a broader STFM audience.

We welcome your questions and comments,