Information has never been more comprehensive and readily accessible than it is today. We have access to blogs, podcasts, teleconference calls, You Tube videos or professional webinars, to name a few, so don’t we have all the information we need? So why bother to take the time out and make the effort to go to a conference?
No matter how good or interactive these items are, there is no substitute for face-to-face engagement with other medical professionals. Conferences, which often encompass more intimate satellite symposia, workshops and seminars, provide learning experiences, information sharing and relationship building opportunities that simply cannot be matched by experiences derived from information-technology.
An immediate benefit of being a conference delegate is access to really innovative data. Researchers keen to promote findings will present posters or talks in advance of the more lengthy process of publishing their studies in professional journals. This not only provides rapid communication of new and relevant information but can raise awareness of ongoing research presenting opportunities for collaboration or information sharing that potentially benefit all parties involved.
Especially for healthcare professionals involved in caring for patients with rare, or very rare, conditions – who only see a handful of patients each year – the opportunity to share experience can have a value that far exceeds that of reading the literature. Skills and techniques may be written up in a research paper, but an opportunity to have a discussion with a person practising those techniques can provide valuable insight and important practical information.
As healthcare has advanced the increasing knowledge base has meant that professionals are constantly required to specialise; conferences can provide opportunities to break out from the specialist pigeon-hole into a new space, to network with professionals from other disciplines that may spark new ideas. People from different specialities may not routinely meet in their healthcare institutions, but they can be using techniques and have ideas that overlap or have common points of interest; by bringing together people from different disciplines, conferences facilitate information sharing that can enrich research projects and healthcare delivery for all parties.
On a practical level, conferences, or maybe specific sessions, can carry Continuing Medical Education (CME) accreditation, so provide a tangible contribution to career development. Presenting at a conference can also provide an opportunity to enhance your standing amongst your peers.
The social aspects of conference attendance cannot be ignored. Meeting your peer group is valuable and developing a personal relationship with healthcare professionals whose practice is, or has the potential to be, relevant to your own can be immensely important. People with personal relationships are more inclined to share information and will readily canvass opinion or advice from colleagues they have met, rather than reluctantly approaching an individual who is just a name on an academic paper.
Importantly, discussion between likeminded individuals can help resolve contentious issues in healthcare and is crucial in ultimately developing consensus opinions on best practice.
Jan Hawthorn is a freelance medical writer with a PhD in medical biochemistry and a background in research. She then moved into medical writing over 25 years ago. She has written a wide range of materials, including articles for academic journals, teaching materials for healthcare professionals as well as patient information material. She has been a referee and reviewer for academic journals and her book on Understanding and Management of Nausea and Vomiting (aimed at Oncology nurses) won a commendation in the BMA British Medical Book Competition.