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The appliance of science

I’ve just returned from my specialty’s annual scientific meeting in Boston. The meeting truly is the ‘Virgin Megastore’ of our specialty, with over 15,000 delegates, 3,000 scientific abstracts, hundreds of oral presentations, ‘meet the professor’ and review sessions.

Whereas very few unexpected medical breakthroughs are ever revealed at the meeting, it is a unique opportunity to catch-up with all of the latest developments in our specialty and always worth the trip.

Here’s some of my highlights from this year’s meeting.

Year in review

 Location: Forum (bar-restaurant), Boylston St, Boston MA

Format: Dinner and a beer with many of my Irish specialty colleagues whom I don’t see from one end of the year to another.

Topics discussed: Getting older, managing complex disease, medical gossip, how to get a neurosurgical patient admitted to Beaumont Hospital, the future of our specialty, vasectomies, politics, cookery courses and box-sets.

‘Meet the professor’ session

 Location: Main entrance to exhibition area, MCCA Convention Centre

Format: One-on-one intimate mentoring session with an expert in the area of life, rearing teenage kids and rheumatology.

Topics for discussion: Retirement planning, the art of the perfect holiday, keeping cool with teenagers and making the best of downtime at conferences (without succumbing to feelings of guilt).

Plenary session

 Location: Wang Theatre, Tremont Street, Boston

Presenters: Ryan Adams and ‘The Cardinals’.

Target Audience: A healthy mix of non-academic members of the general public and three Irish rheumatologists.

Syllabus: Two hours of heart-lifting Americana, a few beers and discussions about finding joy in medicine in middle-age, ageing parents, maintaining compassion in medicine and medical cock-ups we have made during the year.

Finding solace in the company of others working at the coalface of our specialty.

Poster session 1 (Epidemiology)

 Meet a colleague and old friend from Australia where the frustrations of the practice of our specialty in our respective countries was discussed at length.

Posters viewed from a distance = approx ‘200/500’. Poster actually looked at up close = ’0/500’. Feeling of collegiality, nostalgia and friendship = 10/10.

Poster session 2 (Nomenclature and Classification)

 Discussion among a number of colleagues while browsing posters on the rising incidence of the use of the word ‘paradigm’ at medical conferences and how to reverse this trend. Communal agreement at conformity of dress code of US academic rheumatologists (blazer, nicely pressed slacks, blue Oxford shirts and ties/bow-ties). Alarmingly high density of 1970s-style moustaches noted and troubling increase in frequency of well-trimmed goatees among our US counterparts also discussed.

International consensus meeting

 A meeting of rheumatologists from South America, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Spain, France, Holland, Belgium and the UK who had largely met on Twitter.

Topics discussed: the value of friendships with people one has never met in real life, practising rheumatology in different countries, the challenges of learning while jet-lagged, and learning how to meet the expectations of well-educated, engaged, modern patients.

Break-out session 1

 Location: Trident Bookstore, Newbury Street, Boston

Browsing and buying books (completely unrelated to study of rheumatology) followed by coffee and pancakes (second breakfast, fourth coffee of the day). Another opportunity to relish the joys of solitude, literature and American food portions.

Break-out session 2

 Location: Boston Common

Deliciously pointless jet-lagged solo stroll through Boston Common. Relishing some rare moments to smell the roses, contemplate the joys of travelling alone. Also deciding, on impulse, to join the queue to purchase a ticket for matinee showing of the movie ‘Interstellar’. Then, immediately changing mind and leaving cinema queue (without having to consult any members of family, as I am alone.). Followed by more pointless wandering around city centre, followed by an afternoon nap.

Break-out session 3

 A stroll around the Steinway piano shop on Boston Common to browse pianos I have no chance of owning. Decide to restart playing the piano on return home in earnest in an effort to restore work-life balance.

Important take-home points

  •  Attendance at medical conferences is an essential part of personal and professional development.
  • Medical conferences are as much about science as barbecues are about food.
  • There’s only so much you can eat.
  • You can’t go for a drink with a Webcast.

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