Intended for healthcare professionals

Filler A day in the life of a doctor

The teleconference

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1288
  1. David Isaacs, senior staff specialist, Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, Australia (davidi{at},
  2. Stephen Isaacs, consultant, Waltham Forest Child and Family Consultation Service, London,
  3. Dominic Fitzgerald, senior staff specialist, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Children's Hospital at Westmead

    The main purpose of a teleconference is to provide protected time to answer emails. It is this, and not cicadas, which accounts for the continual clicking noise in the background of all teleconferences. The most recent email that you will find in your in tray is the agenda for the teleconference, plus multiple attachments, sent 30 seconds before the conference starts.

    There are some important subsidiary functions of teleconferences. The first is professional interaction. You should arrange teleconferences as often as possible, involving colleagues from at least 20 countries spaced at least 1000 km apart. Start the teleconference at a time of your own maximum convenience. In this way you can ensure that your international academic rivals and their immediate family are sleep deprived for much of the year.

    You can also ensure that your academic rivals believe that their faculties are waning, by placing the microphones at a distance from the participants, which ensures that any conversation is audible only to someone with the hearing of a bat. Meanwhile, by taking teleconference calls at home with the door open, allowing them to hear loud squeals of merriment from your children, you provide evidence of your fecundity and your ability to work efficiently from home.

    The etiquette for a teleconference is a hybrid of the English class and the Indian caste systems. Roles are carefully delineated. The chairperson's role is to conduct the teleconference with all the subtlety of Senator McCarthy investigating Communist subversion. The most seasoned clinician is invited for political reasons. He (it is always a he) wanders in and out of the room, pontificating on previously resolved agenda items and laughing at his own jokes in a fatherly way because no one else finds them funny. Workload is inversely related to age: the youngest member organises the time of the teleconference, sets the agenda, and writes the minutes.

    The role of the telecommunication company is to forget to ring all the most important people on time, and then to interrupt the meeting periodically with ear splitting bleeps and say, “Excuse the interruption, but Dr Livingstone has just presumed to join the teleconference.”

    Communication is not one of the purposes of a teleconference. The most refined form of teleconference is a videoconference. The main purpose of a videoconference is to make sure you do not answer your emails.

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