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Observations And Realizations From A Recent Conference

I’m writing this reflection at 35,000 feet, winging my way cross-country after attending an excellent clinical conference. For the sake of not being too specific, let’s just say it was sponsored by an academic health science center. There were 90 of us, mostly local physicians and residents, at the conference.

It seems like the speakers are getting younger or perhaps I am getting older. Their font of knowledge is breathtaking as is their use of PowerPoint. In the era of evidence-based medicine, these young speakers provide cogent facts “from the literature.” However, what are their own clinical experiences comparing and contrasting the best evidence?

When attending any conference, I want to come away with pearls that will in some way alter my practice in terms of what to do or not to do. That to me is a successful conference. Luckily, this one did provide practical tips. I hope when the appropriate patient comes in, I will remember these tips or be able to find my notes.

To the lecturers, please don’t read word for word from your slides. That’s my job in the audience. Just talk around what’s on the screen. Also, keep the words to a minimum on each slide. Too many are hard to read and take them all in.

I should note an important “disclaimer” here. I did lecture at this conference. Hopefully I wasn’t boring, provided some clinical tips and practiced what I am relating in this article. If I did not, call me out on it.

The speakers at this conference were readily available via a panel discussion and in the hallway after each lecture. That is helpful to dig deeper into their topics. I wish the panel discussions were longer. Just as the audience was warming up and asking the panel some really cogent questions, time was up. Picking one’s brain and having a civil discourse adds to any conference.

Age has a tendency to creep up on you. Age is even reflective in the conferences I now attend in a most peculiar way. A long time ago when I was just starting in this profession, I would attend every lecture.

The quest for knowledge and being ready just in case a patient with that pathology came in was both an inspiration to sit there as well as some kind of duty if you will. Besides, taking the boards was still on the horizon so I was afraid if I missed even one talk, I would miss those questions and then possibly have a failed board attempt.  

I’ll share a confession from the conference I just attended. I blew off the afternoon talks. The topic was extensive surgical treatment of Charcot neuroarthropathy via fancy frames and intermetatarsal rods. At this stage of my career, I don’t do this work. If someone does need any surgical intervention, off they go to the younger member of the staff. The young DPM’s experiences will only grow and he will (has) been our institution’s de facto expert.

Besides, who needs to do surgery for four plus hours? Up to two hours is a comfort. More is pushing it and beyond that is a chore.

That’s why you need a staff with various age groups with the hope that the younger ones will be as excited as I was at their age. The thirst for knowledge is still there but now I pick and choose what I do surgically, which is reflected in course selection.

After any conference, I come away with the following conclusions.
• There is much I still don’t know about the lower extremity, even the areas I “specialize” in.
• There is a fair amount the profession doesn’t know either but I think this is ubiquitous in all of medicine and the sciences.
• Medicine, no matter how much we put it on a back burner to a degree, is still an art.
• My fascination with the foot and ankle is still abundant but like a 35-year-old marriage, it is different now than at the beginning.
• I believe the foot and ankle profession is in good hands after listening to those lecturing and their apparent thirst for knowledge. A few more years will season these young doctors. Let us hope their opinions on the dais will be fueled by their increasing experience and the best current evidence.

All in all, it was an excellent conference. May your next conference be of the same caliber as well.

The pilot just announced we are starting the final descent. When boarding, I noticed how young he looked. Maybe he lectures to his fellow pilots. Next time, though, let’s hope the captain has a few gray hairs.

Dr. Wallace is the Director of the Podiatry Service and the Medical Director of Ambulatory Care Services at University Hospital in Newark, N.J.

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George Wallace, DPM
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