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In praise of face-to-face meetings

Although Zoom is a great communication tool, I would hate to see it become the only way of delivering medical education

So much has changed in our lives since March 2020 that at this point it is now almost impossible to remember how we once used to live. Things evolved so rapidly overnight that I didn’t even really register it when I was first directed to a computer programme called ‘Zoom’ for a hastily reorganised teaching session back in those first scary, uncertain days. Like face masks and the now ubiquitous yellow signs, it has now become a staple of our lives, particularly in the spheres of medical education and conferences.

There are many great things about Zoom (and the other video conferencing software platforms available that haven’t succeeded in achieving such brand recognition). It has brought about great convenience and ease of accessibility to attending events, particularly if you live outside of the capital or have busy family commitments at home. It may not always have been as easy to travel to a Dublin teaching hospital or a hotel conference room before, now we have the ability to attend a Saturday morning or midweek evening seminar delivered by experts in their fields all over the world from the comfort of our own homes.

Many of the postgraduate colleges have really pivoted towards this new means of delivery, with the ICGP in particular now running very popular weekly webinars and online learning events much more regularly than they did previously.Although Zoom webinars and meetings are a great new way of communicating, I would hate to see these becoming the only way of delivering medical education and training in the future. Although we are now all much more attuned to the new etiquette of muting and unmuting yourself than we were back at the start of all of this, it is still a much more tiring, unnatural way for human beings to communicate.

Much as we didn’t realise how much we all lip-read until face masks came in, we didn’t realise how much we rely on non-verbal communication until so many of its cues were lost. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real phenomenon and adaptions need to be made in how material is delivered, as trying to do it in the same way as you would if you were in a room with an audience just does not work. It’s also difficult to sit staring at a screen after a long day of work and these days there really is no limit to the amount of worthy, educational webinars that one could be improving themselves with.

I was surprised that medical

conferences and events were

something that I was nostalgic

for from the pre-Covid times

Surely I can’t be the only one who feels ‘Zoom guilt’ when I don’t have the energy or motivation to sit at my laptop screen when I’d far rather be out getting some fresh air or watching mindless television of an evening. I know that Zoom is not going away any time soon, but I would be sorry if the old ways were completely done away with. Of all the many things that I missed when they were taken away from us, I was surprised that medical conferences and events were something that I was nostalgic for from the pre-Covid times. I miss the lanyards and the bad coffee and the free tote bags.

I miss trying to balance a cup and saucer and a mini croissant in one hand as you shake hands with someone that you vaguely know as you desperately try to remember their name. I miss meeting new people and never knowing what interesting person you might get talking to. I even miss the reminders that medicine in Ireland is very small and that you’re only one degree of separation from somebody at all times. In particular, I still have incredibly fond memories of the last DotMD conference in Galway in 2019, a self-styled ‘Electric Picnic of medical conferences’ and I will be the first to book a ticket for its return in 2022, provided that we don’t make our way through the entire Greek alphabet of variants in the meantime.

As soon as it is truly safe do so, I hope that one day we will get back to the stuffy hotel function rooms and mass catering events. I also hope that I will still have the ability to attend educational sessions in my pyjamas from my sofa on a Saturday morning. By offering people a blend of online and in-person options, we will hopefully be able to prevent the dreaded Zoom fatigue and continue to use this brilliant, revolutionary tool for what it’s truly good for.

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