So I am back from an amazing few days in Chicago where the most amazing medical conference of the world just took place at McCormick place in Chicago (USA).
As a FOAM(ed) convert and avid Twitter user, I had been so far only a passive follower of this annual gathering of inspirational speakers but decided this year to attend the conference personally on the constant gentle nudging of a colleague and mentor of mine @EMManchester.
There is an argument that in the 21st century there is no need to physically attend medical conferences as most of them are relayed on social media via Twitter, YouTube, online material posts etc. I will come back to that later.
I boarded the plane in Virchester for the windy city with a rather sceptical mindset but some degree of trepidation and landed at Chicago O’Hare airport having traveled back in time (time zone wise!) a few hours.
I was planning to have a couple of hours rest and visit the city before the academic event but my Twitter account kept buzzing of activity and I therefore found myself in a restaurant downtown with a burger washed down with some rather good american ale.
My trip had started a few hours ago only and I already managed to have a social catch up with the lovely @_NMay and some fellow emergency physicians and paramedics from Oz and the USA. Funnily enough, I had never physically met @docib who is integral part of our StEmlyns team at Virchester and an EMP in the UK so it was rather odd to finally meet him…across the pond.
The few days before the conference flew by rapidly filled in with some cultural programmes like a visit to the Art Gallery, a boat tour of the skylines of the city and food gatherings with amazing people from the four corners of the planet. It was amazing to finally physically meet face to face some of the leading figures of emergency and acute care.
The conference itself was attended by approximately 2,000 delegates and after an american style opening ceremony (jazz music, cheerleaders, confettis ), the real event unfolded with legendary speakers like Scott Weingart, Cliff Reid, Rob Rogers, Liz Crowe (to cite only a few!).
Themes for the talks ranged from cutting edge respiratory support to resilience for emergency physicians through our lost connection with the spiritual world.
As a conference which had truly embraced social media and in the true spirit of FOAM(ed), real-time debates were taking place during and after sessions via the use of Twitter and questions to the speakers were also collected this way.
The tea and lunch breaks were another opportunity to catch up with the delegates and speakers who were very approachable and keen to meet with everyone. The attire of some delegates was somewhat…relaxed.
The gala dinner at Chicago Navy Pier was a success on all levels! The theme for this year was “festival chic” (open to a wide range interpretation as you can imagine) and the British Virchester team turned up in James Bond tux and bow tie attire (which resulted in a few selfies and congrats from the crowd).
You cannot take care of the sick if you do not pay attention to your own mental and/or physical health so a group of delegates had even organised group runs along the shores of the river Chicago and Lake Michigan. Quite a performance (from me)!
It would be difficult for me to go through the benefits of attending #SMACCUS through a single blog so I tried to summarise my top ones below:
1. the conference was a true cutting edge professional meeting presenting the latest progress in the fields of emergency, pre-hospital medicine and acute care
2. as mentioned earlier, I finally connected physically with some truly inspirational people whose name I knew only through social media or as authors of published articles
3. I reconnected with some old friends and colleagues I had not seen since my university or specialty training years
4. this event was a definite drive for me to make some things change for the better in my own organisation
5. I had the opportunity to attend some of the innovative pre-conference workshops
Attending such a huge professional event can be daunting for the beginner and I would suggest the following tips if you are a “SMACC virgin”:
1. Book early to benefit from discounted conference and hotel fees. Keep in mind that it is an investment worth your money in terms of education, development, networking.
2. Reduce hotel costs by sharing a room with a colleague or friend. Some of the StEmlyns authors teamed up and roomie tales are always a laugh!
3. Become acquainted with twitter prior the conference. You do not have to be a pro but there is loads going on online before, during and after the conference too. Of course nothing stops you from attending the conference without social media: SMACC is not a conference for the geeks (only).
4. Remember that a conference is also a social event so join the official gala dinner, impromptu bar gatherings, city sight-seeings etc. Some delegates attended a baseball match and a U2 concert this year!
5. Do not be shy: go over and say hello. Chances are you already know each other on social media and everyone is much engaging.
Having returned to the UK a few days ago and back to my daily clinical work, my head is still spinning with the fantastic social and professional meets with inspirational colleagues. I can feel on me the signs and symptoms of a mythical illness called #SMACCDown: lassitude mixed with inspiration, sadness mixed with joy,
I however feel revitalised again thinking the next SMACC event that will take place at our doorsteps in Dublin in June 2016.
So, have you got any valid reason not to attend in order to celebrate our noble profession?