Judgment day

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 17 June 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1505
  1. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor
  1. primary health care, University College London

    Conference centre in Amsterdam. I'm in the press room, being briefed by an attractive hostess in a sash. She hands me a map marked with a cross. You will find the treasure here. Outside, 4000 delegates are networking in a purpose built informal space with endless corridors of glossy posters. They are vying, variously, for Best Oral Presentation, Best Poster, Most Innovative Quality Improvement Project, and Patient Communication Award. I'm here to judge Young Researcher of the Year.

    Regular readers of this column will know that I can't read maps. I'm one floor too high but don't know it. I blunder into the pharmaceutical industry corner and start judging. The lad beside the poster—he's young all right—offers me a freshly squeezed raspberry juice and starts a spiel about a new contraceptive. The poster is surreal—lovers entwined, bound by a rubbery halo. So small you don't know it's there, he explains. But no cost effectiveness studies that he knows of. We exchange business cards.

    The next guy—bald and wrinkled, but I presume he has a syndrome—offers a plate of petits fours and a free first aid kit for my car. We admire his poster. I note creative use of imagery and sexual innuendo, but sadly the small print is unreadable. Have I ever prescribed Something-o-sartan, he asks. I rack my brain. Yes, once, against my better judgment, and the patient developed mouth ulcers. I talk him through my Yellow Card report.

    The next “poster” is a free medical check from a company selling an anti-obesity drug. I'm game. I complete a questionnaire about my personal habits, stand on the scales, and have my fat content estimated by an infra-red machine. Reassuringly, I fail to qualify for a free sample pack, but am awarded an apple in a takeaway bag.

    Eventually, I am rescued and escorted to the lift. The real Young Researcher of the Year display stands proud in a draughty hall, conspicuous by the absence of freebies, sales pitch, and delegates. These shortlisted dozen are the names—mostly unpronounceable and double barrelled—to watch for the future. Their posters, comprising simple printouts glued on to card, present solid, original research with direct messages for patient care. I struggle to pick a winner, and slink guiltily back upstairs to queue for my free lunch.

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