December 4th, 2018

Conferences Are Really About Mental Health Breaks

Justin Davis, MBBS

Justin Davis, MBBS, is a Chief Resident at Barwon Health in Geelong, Australia.

I recently attended the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology’s (ANZSN) annual conference. I had a really good time. I had been to one of these before, when it was in Perth a few years ago, but that was way before I was accepted into the nephrology program. I remember the weekend being a whirlwind of getting out and back to Perth on a Friday and Sunday, attending as many of the talks as I could, and also missing a live event for one of my favourite video games that only ran that weekend (go figure). While that first conference was an enjoyable experience, the one I went to recently in Sydney was so much more enjoyable, and, naturally, when I notice something like that, I get to musing as to why that’s the case.

Darling Harbour on one beautiful morning. Only made better by the addition of coffee (not pictured).

I had been looking forward to this conference for a while. Before I went, I was excited both about attending a conference hosted by the society to which I had just been accepted into training and about the scientific talks and learning that would happen there. But, as the week went on, I started realising that it wasn’t just the lectures that I was appreciating. Instead, as my blog title suggests, it was more the time off, the break from the grind that is clinical work — a few days where I didn’t have to battle the phone or the clinic, or try to solve the multitude of issues that crop up on a daily basis. Instead, my biggest worry on any conference day was where was I going to source my morning coffee from so that I could be awake enough to pay attention to the aforementioned talks. (I am not a morning person, and this is especially true before I have had some sort of warm caffeinated beverage. I can’t start my ward round without one. Also, if anyone is curious, my hotel had a café in the lobby that did pretty good coffee, so this issue was solved very quickly).

Appreciating the poster viewing part of the conference, mostly by pointing out our co-regs specific posters for our amusement.

But it’s more than just the simple time off from work that made the conference enjoyable. If that were the case, I would be writing about every weekend that I have off.(Curiously enough, I’m writing this blog post on a Sunday evening where I have had a lovely little weekend off. It’s sunny and warm for the first time in ages here in the Land Down Under [well, the Victorian portion of it. I mean, Queensland is always sunny. Like Philadelphia]). I mentioned above that I was looking forward to my first nephrology conference as a nephrology registrar, and that’s because, in a speciality program, there’s something nice about being part of a group of varied, but still sorta-like-minded, people (after all, there was something that all drew us all to the kidneys). Where I work, I’m the only renal advanced trainee, which is nice, as I have formed close relationships with the staff around the unit (after all, I am the conduit for most things going through that unit). But this year, I’ve also been privileged to meet and become friends with a lot of the other nephrology trainees in my state, through various events and phone calls between hospitals. But I don’t have much to do with my registrar colleagues on a day to day basis, so I was appreciative of this year’s conference for the social aspect of it and for getting to spend some time with everybody else. Aside from Friday night travel, which was a scrambled mess of trying to get to the airport on time, every night at the conference was spent out for drinks, good food, and generally gallivanting about Sydney. (Have you ever noticed that if you’re trying to leave the hospital early or, at the very least, on time for something, instead of having a nice quiet day the hospital is insanely busy every time? I swear Murphy’s law and medicine have some sort of pact.) Admittedly, even on the Friday evening, I ran into some of the other registrars at the airport and had a nice chat (as well as the rather amusing group chat situation about the storms in Sydney that were cancelling various flights and the social media messages that created). And this, to me, was the key reason why I enjoyed this conference so much more than the last one; even though they both had scientific talks, it was the social aspect of this one that made it much more enjoyable. (Curiously enough, I also missed out on the first weekend of a launch of the newest edition of the same video game that I missed out on in Perth a few years ago. Go figure again, hey?)

The offical ANZSN dinner. Or at least the dancing afterwards.

Conferences aren’t just about the talks, the time off, or the social aspects. There’s also the opportunity to explore new places. I’ve actually been to Sydney a few times (including a rather amusing time where we stayed in what I swear must have been the hottest, most cramped, and non-air-conditioned backpackers’ hostel in the world during the middle of summer. It was great!), but this was the longest time I’ve spent there. Sydney has a heap of cool things to see in it, and Darling Harbour (on which our conference was held) is always a very pretty and pleasant place to visit. It was nice to get out and explore some more of the city, including going for a run pretty much every day I was there — including the opportunity to run around Circular Quay and enjoy the  Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. (It’s fun to be a tourist even in your own country sometimes). Even getting the time to sit out on Darling Harbour with a beer and a book (my favourite author managed to release his newest book right in the middle of the conference, which was excellent timing — I actually devoured it in a couple of days) watching the sunset was a refreshing experience, one I don’t have the opportunity to do during everyday life.

Of course there is a selfie in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I mean why wouldn’t you take that opportunity whilst you’re there?

It’s important to note that I did also enjoy the talks that were given during the conference, especially the one emphasising updates in granulomatous with polyangiitis (GPA) with a discussion on the recent PEXIVAS trial. I feel like this one is going to create controversy in the nephrology world for a while yet. It probably was the highlight for me. But the conference was so much more than that. It was time off work, socialising, the chance to explore a new city, and even just little things like going for a run around Darling Harbour listening to music (from the same video game I was missing out on. Don’t look at me like that …) or sitting with a book and wine, watching the sunset. That was the conference. And that’s what made me come to the realisation that conferences are more about the mental health break than anything else. And hey, if you get to experience that every year or so then it makes conferences more than worth it.

“The greatest Warlocks understand how little they understand.”

What’s that? More random quotes? Sure, why not?


NEJM Resident 360

One Response to “Conferences Are Really About Mental Health Breaks”

  1. Munita Singh says:

    I enjoyed your unaffected writing style and enthusiam. There was a hint of Paul Sax so keep writing!

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