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St Luke’s Symposium – Gathering online in the time of Covid-19

By Mindo - 12th Nov 2020

Woman wearing protective face mask in the office for safety and protection during COVID-19

The RCPI’s annual conference, the St Luke’s Symposium, which was held virtually for the first time, had a record number of attendees and plenty of highlights

“ St Luke’s Symposium is the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s flagship event for the year. It brings together our trainees, members and Fellows, healthcare professionals and the public for a celebration of medicine. The idea that this might not happen this year never crossed our minds,” says Prof Mary Horgan, President of RCPI. This year’s St Luke’s Symposium moved completely online for the first time in RCPI’s 366-year history. While the halls of 6 Kildare Street may have fallen silent, attendance reached record numbers with in excess of 1,500 logging in to watch along over the four days, 1 October and then from 14-16 October. However, organisation of the event was not without its challenges, especially with the changing nature of restrictions. “Initially the plan had been that Prof Mary Horgan would be able to introduce and host each session from our historic home, but with the introduction of level 5 restrictions imminent, we made the difficult but, we felt, necessary decision to host our final two days completely remotely,” says Dr Terry McWade, CEO.

“The success of the event virtually has shown not only that there is an appetite for ongoing medical education at this time, but that we’re leading the way in this regard in Ireland. I’m really pleased with how well attended and received the Symposium has been,” he adds. “I am delighted with how this year’s St Luke’s Symposium went, and the record attendance levels, especially since we’ve been able to welcome members from around the world who may not previously have been able to attend” says Prof Horgan. “I think it’s a testament to the quality of this year’s programme that we had such high levels of engagement. Over the four days we unpacked and shed light on some vital issues currently facing the profession, and we started some really important conversations that I hope will continue post event.”

Older people

The conference kicked off early this year in a collaboration with the Irish Gerontological Society (IGS), who RCPI partnered with to deliver the annual Alone Willie Bermingham Lecture on 1 October. Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organisation Health Emergencies Programme was the keynote speaker at this event. “Dr Ryan’s talk on ‘Lessons from Covid-19 and how we can improve care and support for older people in our community’ spoke of ‘not leaving anyone behind’, cherishing those who have brought us to where we are and who have given us everything we have. He reminded us that relationships with those older than us shape us for the rest of our lives,” says Dr Diarmuid O’Shea, RCPI Registrar and President of the IGS. “By including this event in our St Luke’s Symposium we demonstrated the potential we have, in combination with our national societies, our institutes and faculties, to collaborate to deliver on world class educational and professional events,” he continues. “It’s something I know is of huge importance to RCPI in the future too.” On 14 October the RCPI Heritage Centre hosted Heritage Day – which was open to the public to attend as well as healthcare professionals.

This looked extensively at the subject of vaccines and specifically the quest for a Covid-19 vaccine. Ms Harriet Wheelock, RCPI’s Keeper of Collections, hosted this event and says that the reaction from attendees was incredibly positive. “Dr Ida Milne and Dr Anne Moore really impressed with their ‘in conversation’ style of lecture on the learnings from previous pandemics, we had some wonderful feedback on this,” says Ms Wheelock. “And Prof Luke O’Neill, as always, delivered a lively, thought-provoking, and informative insight into where we are with a potential Covid-19 vaccine. Being able to blend together the historical perspective with such an ‘of the moment’ topic really seemed to resonate with our attendees, and I’d encourage any readers to catch up on these sessions on the RCPI YouTube channels.”

New frontiers

On Thursday 15 October, the Advanced Masterclass – organised by Dr Sinead Murphy, RCPI’s Director of Education and Professional Development – took place, confronting new frontiers in medicine and delving into areas such as genomic medicine, planetary health, professionalism, and alcohol and liver disease and the secondary harm of Covid-19. Dr O’Shea, who co-hosted this session, says: “We had great feedback from attendees on all the topics covered as part of this session. While Covid-19 is still front and centre in healthcare, it was also important for us to expand our discussion to some of the other pressing issues that present challenges and questions as we forge ahead in medicine over the coming years.” Finally, on Friday 16 October two sessions took place. The first, on the challenges for medical training in Ireland, is available to watch back on RCPI’s YouTube channel and looked at issues such as generalism versus specialism and the challenges for non-training scheme doctors in Ireland. “This was a really engaging and vital session,” says Prof Horgan, “and it tackled some issues head on that we know are of concern to doctors working within Ireland at the moment. We were pleased to be able facilitate such discussions and I really feel there were some great takeaways and learnings from this session.”

The second session on this day was the Future of Medicine Leaders Forum, which looked at communication in an increasingly virtual world, risk management, and educating and empowering physician leaders. “Prof Fergus Shanahan, Prof Patrick Wall and Dr Geraldine McGinty joined us for this session which I chaired. Each gave a unique perspective on their topics and how these relate to the issue of leadership. Now, more than ever, I feel that strong leadership is needed and that through sharing the learnings of physician leaders, such as the speakers here, we can help to inspire and inform people working at all levels within medicine and healthcare.”

I think it’s a testament to the quality of this year’s programme that we had such high levels of engagement

Fellowship in a virtual world

One very important event which takes place each year during the St Luke’s Symposium is the welcoming of new Fellows to RCPI at one of two annual Fellowship ceremonies. These ceremonies, which usually take place in the grand surrounds of the College’s historic home on Kildare Street, reflect not only the august nature of the achievement of Fellowship but also the important traditions of RCPI, such as the recitation of RCPI’s Fellowship declaration. “It’s been a record year for Fellowship applications within RCPI, with some 188 doctors admitted since the beginning of 2020. While already officially admitted in absentia, RCPI was keen to celebrate the huge achievements of these doctors in a way that would reflect a traditional ceremony, and that could be incorporated into the celebrations of the Symposium,” says Ms Siobhan Creaton, Head of Public Affairs and Advocacy at RCPI, who headed up the project. Three virtual Fellowship ceremonies were planned to run each evening on RCPI’s YouTube channel after the webinar sessions were completed to allow as many people as possible to virtually attend.

“With socially distanced filming completed in No 6 Kildare Street prior to the imposition of level 5 restrictions the feeling was we wanted to bring some of the surroundings and feelings of a ceremony to those who would be watching along at home,” says Ms Creaton. “Logistically, with the constraints of remote working and social distancing, it was a huge project to take on but one that we really felt was so important for all our new Fellows. Huge kudos to the President, CEO, Registrar, our Deans and Chair and all the staff, including our mace bearer Karl, who pulled together to make these happen. To-date these videos have been viewed almost 2,000 times,” she adds. “I’ve had some wonderful feedback from our Fellows and their families who have said that this really helped them to feel connected to RCPI at a time when we can’t come together to celebrate,” says Prof Horgan. “With Fellows taking part from as far afield as New Zealand there was a really global feel to these special ceremonies; it was so heartening to see all the good wishes being shared from around the world. “This reflected the overall feeling about this year’s conference, that despite the pandemic and being apart we can still find ways to come together to collaborate, celebrate and educate.”

This article was produced by the RCPI. You can watch back selected sessions from RCPI’s Annual Conference – St Luke’s Symposium and the virtual Fellowship ceremonies on their YouTube channel. All trainees, members and Fellows of RCPI have full access to all recordings from the event via the College’s digital library, Panopto. To find out more visit

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