Breaking Out Of Our ‘Echo Chamber’ At Conferences

David G. Armstrong DPM MD PhD

As a new year begins, so does a new slate of podiatric scientific conferences. Podiatric physicians have no shortage of educational experiences from which to choose.

I regularly attend the annual American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) conference, the Diabetic Limb Salvage (DLS) meeting, the Diabetic Foot Global Conference (DFCon), the Symposium on Advanced Wound Care Spring/Wound Healing Society (SAWC Spring/WHS) meeting and the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) meeting. I regularly attend other meetings outside North America that have other foci in plastic surgery, infectious diseases, diabetes, rural health, vascular surgery and others.

I prefer meetings that are, in the truest sense of the word, interdisciplinary. We have a tendency in life in general, and in medicine specifically, to enjoy hearing what we want to hear and what is familiar. In other words, it’s often easier to be reassured with a soothing message from an “echo chamber” than it is to be challenged. I think putting some effort into leaving that echo chamber is ultimately worth it. It expands your “silo.” It’s frankly exhilarating. It makes me want to bound back into clinic and the wards on Monday and apply what I’ve learned.

The most important factors in putting on an educationally valuable conference are speakers, content and moderation.

The speakers should be superb. When that happens, one knows they are going to do their best to bring their "A" game because their colleagues are doing so. A good speaker takes an odd lecture request as a challenge to expand his or her horizons and the audience of colleagues is also the beneficiary.

The emphasis on content speaks for itself. However, the content should be controlled toward a theme. Just as Apple arguably does a good job in controlling its “ecosystem” on the iPhone and iPad, so too should the organizers control the topics and “soul” of a meeting.

Moderation is where most meetings could do better. Most believe moderating is keeping time and introducing people from a list. It is so much more than that. The mindful moderator must know the content and be an enthusiast. He or she must also challenge the speaker — pleasantly — with the goal of getting to those key kernels of truth that we love to mine at a meeting.

Dr. Armstrong is the Conference Co-Chairman of the Diabetic Foot Global Conference (DFCon). For more information, visit


Wow, finally!

Someone to challenge the establishment of mediocrity. Shift the paradigm of the monotonous same old, same old, that have become podiatry conferences.

Why do we not hear about the latest techniques? Why are there still people lecturing about the same drab we learned in school all those years ago?

Once in a great while there ARE lectures of interest given by young, skilled practitioners but those are few and far between. Where are all the interesting people and subjects? They must be in the podiatry version of The Matrix as we need credits and are forced to listen to the same thing spun a different way in a "Wait, I think I heard this for the last 5 years in a row" kind of way. End the madness! Start inviting young, skilled lecturers to your conference and upset the establishment by ending the "good old boy" mentality and realize there are others out there that have as much to offer or more than the past doldrum.

Why do we rely on the same standards/lecturers over and over again? We need new blood!

It is not what you know, it is who you know. How do I join the club?

You spend hours on the phone calling all the conference organizers and make a niche for yourself. Then you attend every conference that you can, network, and write a blog for a while and hope someone takes notice. You then keep your fingers crossed, hope somebody bites and then when you get the opportunity, you blow the audience and the organizers away. Then you still make phone calls, shake hands and hope to be noticed, etc. It is an ongoing process.

Being invited to lecture somewhere is truly an honor for me. I never have taken it for granted and always do my best to educate when I'm at the podium.

I don't think it's not reasonable to make a career out of lecturing anymore. Credibility is a huge issue if you don't treat patients but talk about patient care in your lectures.

I've had to slow down a bit with all that as I'm working in a very busy practice, very happily so, and want to give 110% in the practice at this point in my career. However, I still enjoy lecturing when I get an invite. I personally find it very rewarding.

Like anything in life, it is not easy to find these opportunities and make them a reality. If you're willing to work at it, there are opportunities out there. They may be few and far between sometimes, but once you get that opportunity, you better be ready to shine.

Yes, it can seem like "boys club," and for some conferences, it certainly is that way, but whenever I get the chance to speak, I grab it with both hands. The honor to educate is truly mine.

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