Why you should go to conferences.

Last year I went to around ten conferences, symposiums or special lectures. I left each of them carrying something new, something important (no I don’t mean all the pens…Or a GoPro*). I left each of them feeling inspired in some way, often pushing my post-conference imaginings to be more ambitious and feel more exciting (I should admit they were always quite grandiose). It felt as though I would go home with more understanding of the possibilities, always in awe of the breadth of options for future doctors.

I must admit I often left feeling hungover and a few kilos heavier.

The events ranged from local lectures at ANU through to national conferences in major cities. My favourite speakers for the year were the ABC’s Norman Swan (Future Thinking Symposium in Canberra) and Sydney HEMS doctor Brian Burns (Rural Medicine Australia in Sydney**). Yes I even did the subtle ‘loiter discreetly by the stage’ at the end of their presentations for questioning and pestering. Some conferences were aimed at students but for the most part we would be mixing with a room full of doctors. The general chit chat never left me feeling unwelcome or unimportant, however I would always be very aware that I was lightyears behind in terms of experience.

As a student it’s easy to focus on exams and assignments – I equate this to staring at your feet. Staring at your feet is boring. Your feet are never far away, they’re always looming in your peripheral vision, you have to have them, they even make you feel pretty shitty when you get up close to them. Yep, feet sure are like exams.

Going to conferences gives you the chance to raise your head and look around. To look at something other than your feet. My friends and I fell in love with the clear vision. We enjoyed forgetting about our feet and charged off to go conferences in our holidays, even in the week before our final exams. We would hear amazing medical stories from modest rural GPs at the conference drinks and in the next sentence be offered ‘to come out to my practice over the summer’. For these things I am very grateful as we have since seen that these are people who follow through on their offers.

Unfortunately, I can’t possibly pass on the inspiration in words on a blog page. The inspiration and new found ambition is as much about the setting and the atmosphere in which you sit, as it is about the words you hear. The inspiration is also individual. Not everyone got the same kick that I did as Dr Burns took us through strategic breathing exercises. Not everyone rooted for Dr Swan as he pushed speakers for explicit explanations of the murky messages they were hoping would pass as implicit and therefore go unnoticed.

The point of this post is simply to say that you must go.

Go so that you can experience your own awe and inspiration. So that you can open your eyes to the opportunities out there and meet the people who are able to grant you access to these opportunities. Scour the websites and various social media sources for upcoming conferences. Chase funding from the local and national student societies. Enter competitions with ‘conference entry’ as the prize. Grab your classmates, book bulk accommodation (bulk means cheap), car pool for transport.

There may be other ways to be inspired (podcasts and other blogs perhaps) but I believe there is no better way to package the inspiration, networking and opportunity that conferences enable.

And yes, there will be many pens.

*Perhaps the best material object that I left a conference with was a GoPro. This was courtesy of winning the 5k Fun Run at the Rural Medicine Australia Conference in Sydney. They called out “Woohoo you just won a GoPro!!” as I crossed the finish line…. I what??? Needless to say I was pretty bloody happy my competitive edge got the better of me.

**I just about hit the “red zone” (in joke for those who were there or have heard of the zone concept from the book ‘On Combat’) when Dr Burns starting laying it down on stress inoculation and critical care medicine in the retrieval setting. For those interested in finding out more on this go check out Scott Weingart’s EMCrit podcast (http://emcrit.org/podcasts/motr-mike-lauria/).


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