It seems the whole medical world has gone all woolly and fluffy since Broadbeach was hit for six by #smaccGOLD. Everyone’s been so nice to each other, you can almost palpate the love. We’ve had stories of staff from the conference venue being perplexed at who we might be because we’re all such wonderful people. Having listened in open mouthed admiration to Vic Brazil we’ve bashed down all our tribal barriers so that the entire profession is now singing from the same hymn sheet. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Cliff Reid told 1,200 people how to ‘Resuscitate your neighbour as you would yourself’. Heck, this whole thing even made Simon Carley and me take to publicly singing – and that takes something, I can tell you. At journal club this week Simon and I were smiling at each other from opposite ends of the table – such is the love that #smaccGOLD has spread.
So, before everyone who wasn’t actually there dies of nausea, it’s probably about time for some hard facts for hard clinicians from a hard science guy. Well, here goes…
Before we start, let’s get one thing clear. #smaccGOLD was a totally unscientific conference. I mean, I tell my academic friends that I travelled across half the world to go to a conference on ‘social media’ and they look at me like I’m bonkers. It’s not the ACC, it’s not the ESC, it’s not even ICEM. Why did I bother? Look at the publication records of many of the speakers – there’s hardly a New England Journal paper between them and some speakers are completely untraceable in Pubmed. Heck, there were people who aren’t even Professors presenting in plenary sessions. And I met one typical #smaccGOLD chap at coffee who admitted that he doesn’t really go for all that “research stuff”.
By now, of course, you think I’m Emergency Medicine’s answer to Victor Meldrew. You probably think I should calm down. Of course, I don’t really think #smaccGOLD was a bad conference. On the contrary, it was totally flipping awesome. And there were actually lots of people who are international experts in their fields – Karim Brohi, Louise Cullen, Steve Smith, John Myburgh – I could go on and on. But what does a conference on ‘social media’ really have to offer to a serious academic? What scientific value can it possibly have?
The key to this is understanding the essence of #smaccGOLD and, even more importantly, of #FOAMEd. Free, open access medical education is something we should all stand for. If we take Stephen Covey’s lesson and ‘begin with the end in mind’ then those of us who do research should ask ourselves why we are doing it in the first place. Of course, we do it because it’s fulfilling to find better ways of applying science to improve the health and wellbeing of our fellow man or woman. We don’t do it to make profits for large organisations – yet large organisations are clearly the Masters in the world of clinical research right now. That being so, #FOAMEd is a principle we all ought to buy into and we should each play our part in making it work.
That sounds pretty altruistic, right? But there are also some really selfish reasons why an academic should be at #SMACC. Publishing in top journals is, of course, essential. For now, all credible researchers need to do it. Let’s not kid ourselves that #FOAMEd is ready to take over, at least not yet. But journals will only reach a select audience with an interest in research (a minority of doctors). Blogs, micro-blogs, podcasts and forward thinking conferences like SMACC Gold (which celebrate the principle of edutainment, by which we learn while enjoying ourselves – crazy, eh?) are how most of us learn nowadays. And they can make the latest research totally accessible, getting it out there for people to start putting it into practice.
Take, for example, one of my most recent papers, which was on the sources of patient suffering in the ED and how suffering is more than just pain. This paper was published online first and went virtually unnoticed, which isn’t surprising. It’s not exactly the discovery of graphene and I don’t think I’m on the shortlist for any Nobel prizes. In fact it’s a very simple study. But then I blogged on it – and suddenly it attracted loads of attention – more attention than 97% of articles ever published in the EMJ, and it’s still not even out in print yet. That’s the power of social media.
SMACC Gold is all about that. It can take hard research and make it accessible. The beauty is in the branding. Just look at the artistic ability of Oli, Roger and their team. It’s all about presentation and making what’s presented palatable to the audience. Look at the presentations that we saw. There were very few plain slides with bullet points. Most speakers showed enticing pictures or single quotes on their slides. The visual stimulus was enough to draw the audience in and focus their attention on the speaker and the actual message. I’ve never been to a conference where there has been as much emphasis on making the content ‘taste nice’ for the audience.
That’s why SMACC Gold was so awesome. That, and the fact that we all actually enjoyed what we were doing. SMACC Gold reminded us that it’s so important to enjoy life. Take #FOAMaoke, for example. I’d heard about the #FOAMaoke before I got to Australia. In fact Nat never stops banging on about it. So much so that I spent my last night in Broadbeach in just about the seediest karaoke bar in the entire world. And, warm and fluffy as this conference is, they got me singing again. If you can call it singing.
This time it was #smaccCREEP – clearly I had a touch of Impostor Syndrome just like Nat. Have a listen to, and a laugh at, the piano version…