Meet Sarah Kokernot, CEM, CMP, Director of Meetings & Events for Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society.
Sarah Kokernot hopes she will be lying on a nice, hot beach in Kawaii in December relaxing after successfully planning and executing a meeting on the Hawaiian island and reflecting on this wild, exhausting year.
But for now, the Director of Meetings and Events for the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society is working on converting her larger international 4,000-attendee meeting in St. Louis to 100 percent virtual for its September presentation.
The Kawaii meeting (usually 250 attendees) was postponed in April and was moved to December with the hopes that it will take place.
Early on in the pandemic, Kokernot was hoping her September event could still occur as an in-person event, but as the months passed it became apparent that was not to be.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen in September,” said Kokernot when the leadership discussed possibilities in March. “When we were trying to debate on what to do, everyone thought we would be back for the fall. But we were right there on that cusp – Do we cancel? Do we do hybrid? Do we go virtual? Now we are trying to cram six months of planning into three and it’s a whole new world.”
The changes have included Kokernot cancelling the live labs and reducing the number of education days from five to three as well as a simplified exhibit offering.
“We just cut to the nitty gritty,” Kokernot said, noting the members are from ages 20-to-50-years-old have been extremely busy in the hospitals. “We’ll have more of a listing (of exhibitors) and you click on the exhibitors and see their videos, their pictures and you can contact them.”
One possible bright spot from mandatory changes, is the acceptance of leadership that the meeting can be different than in the past, but still be effective.
“I think in our industry and our conference, they have done things so much the same way. That’s always what our committee says, ‘This is how we’ve always done it.’ This year they really had to rely and not do it that way.” Kokernot explained. “So I think it has been a semi-positive because we have been able to adapt to the current life per se. I’m already planning for next year and we’re probably going to have to go hybrid. So, we are looking into that way of life for next year as well.”
All of these adjustments fall on the shoulders of the VECCS staff comprised of just Kokernot, three other members and a temp. Despite the hard work and long hours, Kokernot really enjoys the conceptualizing, planning and the complete involvement of this industry.
“I love seeing the whole thing come together,” said Kokernot, a native and resident of Boerne (just northwest of San Antonio). “I enjoy the planning part. I enjoy seeing it in action. I find it very satisfying and fun. I’ve always loved it.”
A geography major from University of Texas-San Antonio, Kokernot had to work full time while attending college part time, taking a job in accounting for a hotel. It was through the accounting that she was introduced to trade shows and eventually moved over to the management side.
But the passion for planning actually started at a much younger age. “I’ve always been a planner, even in school,” Kokernot laughed as she recalled her younger days. “My teacher used to make me plan all the parties in elementary school. They would go, ‘You know what you are doing. You can plan all our parties.’ I said, Ok.”
And it is that passion for the process from start to finish that has Kokernot excited for all of her meetings and the hope she’ll be able to experience in person that last one of the year in Hawaii.
Notes: During the pandemic veterinary emergency hospitals have seen a rise in business and there is no specific reason why, Kokernot said. “Hospitals are having such a flux of patients right now,” she said. “There is just a staff shortage and it is because it is a 24 hour job. They are just being extra overworked.” Kokernot said suspicions for the increase is likely due to a much higher pet adoption rate since families are home together so much during this time.
Hobbies: Walking. “Normally, I spend a lot of times at the ballfields,” said Kokernot, a single mother of a 9 and 10-year-old. “My son plays baseball and my daughter plays softball. I spend a lot of time chasing them around the ballfields.”
Favorite Movie: Sound of Music