RSNA for the first-timer: Making the most of it

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting happens over the weekend and week after Thanksgiving every year at McCormick Place in Chicago. Attended by over 60,000 delegates, this is probably amongst the biggest annual medical conferences in the world across all specialties. This annual mela can be quite overwhelming for those attending it for the first time, and even for more ‘regulars’. It’s a maze where walking from one lecture hall to the next can literally take 5-10 minutes even if you know the way well! This blog is a general orientation for trainees or junior faculty attending RSNA for the first time (or after a long gap). It has a few tips and tricks to help you make the most of it.

Secure the free registration: Registration is free for all RSNA members, including members-in-training and international corresponding members. It is however not free for those taking the $50 discounted membership available in certain eligible countries. However, you will also get complimentary registration if you are the presenting author for an abstract/ education exhibit. This is probably the only large society level Western radiology conference which gives this benefit, so submit a few educational exhibits or scientific presentations if you are planning to go.

Virtual meeting: RSNA does allow virtual meeting registration at very cheap rates ($49 for members-in-training), where you can attend many of the sessions online without needing to travel all the way to experience the cold Chicago winter. It is a very convenient option, and many could perhaps sit together and attend using this facility.

Staying in Chicago and getting to McCormick: The best (and usually most expensive) place to stay is along North or South Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago; this gives you the opportunity to explore the city (and do some Thanksgiving shopping as well) after the conference. While usually expensive, Hosteling International (HI) and some other relatively cheaper options are also present in downtown. You could also book an Airbnb and share the apt with friends. There are also a few hotels literally attached to McCormick, namely Hyatt and Marriot; these are convenient options to stay away from the winter weather and walk to the conference directly indoors.

Regular shuttle buses ply from McCormick across all major hotels in Downtown Chicago via 5 routes. If you are staying along Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago, you can easily catch one of them to reach McCormick. If staying somewhere else, the closest metro station is Chinatown, from where you would need to walk for about 10 min in the Chicago cold to reach McCormick. Alternately, you could get down one of the downtown stops and catch the shuttle. The shuttle routes are all available on the RSNA website for planning. Uber or Lyft rides (especially the share rides) are another cheap option.

Understand the layout of McCormick Place: I remember my first RSNA, in which all I did was wander around from place to place chasing talks which were half over before I reached them. This is because McCormick Place is just humongous and overwhelming for a first timer. So here is what you need to understand about its layout.

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RSNA occurs across three building of McCormick Place: North, South, and East (Lakeside) buildings (the West building is not used and has not been shown on the map above). Each building has five levels or floors (1-5) with lecture halls spread across all these levels. The North and South buildings are connected to the East (Lakeside) building via a bridge.

The Lakeside Learning center is in the East building (which is along Lake Michigan), where the Case of the Days and the Educational Exhibits can be seen, and the Residents lounge, ribbon collection center, and Discovery theater are present. The Vendor booths are spread across the North and South buildings. The Grand Concourse is the common passage between the North and South Buildings and leads to the bridge to the East building on one side, and the escalators down to the first level of the South building where the shuttle services are present on the other side.

Plan the day in advance: There are usually more than 20 simultaneous sessions happening at RSNA; it is important to take some time each day and plan the next day in advance. The RSNA app is of great use for this purpose.   

The RSNA app: The RSNA app keeps changing its layout every year, but looked something like this in 2019.


You could Browse sessions either by day or type. If you go the Browse by type, you will see different session options such as Plenary sessions, Educational Courses (best for residents to attend), Science sessions and Scientific posters (for those interested in research), and multiple other options. On browsing sessions by day, all sessions are listed chronologically, and color coded depending on their type (for example, educational sessions are green here while scientific presentations are blue).


You can add selected sessions you are interested in attending to Your agenda (you can add more than one talks happening at the same time to the agenda, and decide on which to attend later). If you are a resident, I would suggest attending educational sessions and niche topics of interest. Another way is to search for famous names whom you want to attend (like say Don Resnick), and then attend them. Also, if you have more than one interesting session at the same time, it would be easier to go to the one located nearby rather than walking and hunting a new hall. For example, if you just finished attending something in East351, and you see two interesting sessions up next on your agenda, one each in North306 and East 241, go for the latter as it is just a floor below on level 2.

Besides planning your schedule, you could look at things like Case of the Day or Digital posters through the app, look at transportation options or what’s on the virtual meeting, and read the Daily bulletin. Other options like Maps of various levels, as also Exhibitor area maps, are also available.

There are subspecialty brochures also available at RSNA which lists various sessions of each subspecialty (the app doesn’t give the sessions that way as of now); these could be useful as well.

Food: There is unfortunately no way to tone it down: the food at McCormick sucks. There will be a big line breakfast time at the Starbucks along the Grand Concourse, but there is also a (limited options only) Dunkin Donuts along the concourse, and a much larger and lesser well-known Starbucks on level 2 of the South building. For lunch, if you are vegetarian, try the Connies Pizza along level 2 of North building (near McDonalds); its not great but will fill your tummy. There are two shacks at the East building which give sandwiches, which aren’t too good. My preferred choice is the 23rd St. Café & Market along the grand concourse which offers some better sandwiches and other vegetarian options. The Residents Lounge has free food for the residents and trainees, so make full use of it; it is at the Lakeside Learning Center towards the far left corner once you enter (you can ask the helpdesk for directions). You can also browse through the noon sessions on the RSNA app by type, and there is an option of ‘Lunch and Learn’ which you could select and see if there is anything you fancy attending.

For subsidized/free dinners, various national association-based or University alumni-based get-togethers are the norm in the evenings. For example, the American Association of Radiologists of Indian Origin (AARI) always has one evening get-together during RSNA in an Indian restaurant which is heavily subsidized / free for trainees. I remember getting free entry or a $10 entry on different occasions as a resident. Various invitation-only company sponsored events also happen, which you might need to ask around for. Asking senior radiologists from your institute/country regarding these may be helpful to get an invite.

Orientation session: The RSNA usually conducts an orientation session for the residents at the Discovery Theater on Sunday on tips to navigate RSNA; watch out for that one.

Exploring Chicago: Remember, you are here primarily to attend the conference; so I would suggest attending it diligently rather than just going through the city. However, the evenings are all yours to discover the beautiful city, its architecture, food and shopping! Also, you could land early and depart late to make the most of your trip. Plan things well; I have a separate blog on Things to do in Chicago which you can refer to here. There is also a cute Christmas market on in the winter close to the Bean; the Chriskindlmarket. Its famous for its Christmas trinkets, wine, hot chocolate and some German specialties and is worth a visit.

Hopefully, these tips can help you get oriented and ready to make the most of your RSNA trip. It will still overwhelm you, but you will nevertheless have a great time. If you are able to attend more than half of what you had planned for, consider your trip successful!


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