A footnote on conferences

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 51, No. 2, March 2009, Page 52 Editorials

I recently attended a conference in Toronto that got me thinking about medical conferences in general. Like, why do we attend? Education? To enhance travel plans? To mix with colleagues? Or just to get away from the office for a few days? Conferences seem to be improving with time as quality education becomes more of a priority in our profession. However, conferences do seem to share many similarities.

It all starts with the registration process—hey, why do paramedicals get a break on conference fees? Don’t they take up the same amount of room and fill a seat? Maybe doctors aren’t as smart and pay more because we need more education. And how about those “special” conference hotel room rates? I find if I reserve on my own without the Dr attached to my name I often receive a cheaper rate. Has anyone else ever noticed that booking conferences always seems like a good idea until the time actually comes to do so? You have two equally unappealing choices. Book locally and either miss a day in the office, aggravating your staff and patients, or give up part of your precious weekend. Or else, travel with the misguided idea you are getting a vacation until you find yourself in a nondescript room listening to Urinary Incontinence in the Elderly[1] while your spouse/partner frolics in the pool or lies on the beach sipping one of those little drinks with umbrellas in them.

When registration morning finally arrives you are handed your package and name tag. Why the tags? Speakers seldom make us stand up after reading our name and say, “Bobby, would you like to share that with the rest of the conference?” I mean really, the people you know, you know, and those that you don’t know, you can choose to meet. For a while now I have been suspicious that the tags are to alert hotel staff to raise prices when they see you coming.

And why do some doctors have a stethoscope around their neck during the conference? I know what you are going to say: they might have to leave to attend to urgent serious doctor business.[2] That’s all well and good, but their name tags usually indicate that they are from out of town. The jig is up.

How about the obsessive compulsive note takers who write everything down on the syllabus page, which contains that exact information?

And don’t you love question period, where some physicians[3] ask questions motivated by an inflated sense of self-importance? “Do you think it is relevant that while I was moving my Nobel Prize the other day I discovered that I have extensive notes on this subject and know more than you do?”

I often feel sorry for the first speaker after lunch. I think conferences should take a page from preschool and give us a mat to nap on while someone is droning on about lipid metabolism.[4]

As the afternoon wears on there is the inevitable door prize draw to look forward to. Why does everyone clap? Are they happy that the textbook or gift basket went to a nice home?

Finally, what conference would be complete without the course evaluation—score between 1 and 100, where 1 equates to a hemorrhoidectomy without anesthesia and 100 if you got lucky.[5]

Conferences, of course, are an invaluable way of learning about new studies, diagnostic tests, treatments, clinical pearls, and more. Mixing with your colleagues during breaks often allows you to catch up on their professional and personal lives. Opportunities to network often present themselves and one might even take the opportunity to solicit articles for a famous provincial medical journal. Speaking of the BCMJ, our conferences[6] are entirely different from those referenced here—we don’t have door prizes.


1. I have nothing against the elderly.
2. I don’t know what that is because I am just a GP.
3. You know who you are.
4. In referring to preschool, I meant the nap, not a talk on lipids.
5. This is up to your interpretation.
6. Our second incredibly popular sold-out conference is a Galapagos cruise in April.
7. Yes, I recently discovered footnotes in Word.

David R. Richardson, MD. A footnote on conferences. BCMJ, Vol. 51, No. 2, March, 2009, Page(s) 52 - Editorials.

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