Intended for healthcare professionals

Filler A day in the life of a doctor

The scientific meeting

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1303
  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 scientific meeting is globalisation. To a doctor, globalisation means visiting the globe. Travel broadens your mind, adds to your Frequent Flyer points, and protects you from minor irritations such as patients and family.

    A hefty registration fee ensures the meeting's profitability. It is widely acknowledged that doctors are not expected to pay for their education, but are generous enough to let drug companies do so. Drug companies will also organise the meeting, no strings attached. It is indeed fortunate that altruism, so conspicuously absent from the modern medical profession, exists in the pharmaceutical industry.

    You register by joining a queue the length of the Champs-Elysées. As you near the counter, you realise that this queue is for people whose names begin with the letters A-H, and your name begins with I. Your registration fee entitles you to a plastic name badge with your name misspelt, a genuine leatherette meeting bag identical to the 36 bags in your broom cupboard, and a book of meeting abstracts heavy enough to take the creases out of your crumpled suit.

    The meeting programme is as elegantly simple as the DIY instructions on assembling a Formula One racing car from a kit. For the modern doctor, there is a CD of the scientific programme to allow you to plan your attendance for the entire four day meeting, slipping seamlessly from one session to another. If you are over 40 years old, it takes four days to master the CD, which achievement you celebrate by attending the closing ceremony. The younger doctor masters the CD effortlessly, slipping seamlessly from one parallel session to another, arriving at each talk to find the timing is out of synchrony by exactly the length of one presentation.

    The more concurrent sessions that are held, the more oral presentations can be accepted, even if each presenter talks to an audience confined to his or her fellow speakers and the chairperson, who all wish they were at the parallel session next door. Accepting the remaining abstracts as posters, regardless of quality, maximises meeting attendance while minimising cerebral activity for the scientific committee.

    Holding plenary sessions in an auditorium the size of the Colosseum confers gravitas without audibility, preventing awkward audience questions. Throwing presenters of poor papers to the lions is no longer good conference etiquette. The purpose of a plenary session is to recuperate from jet lag. A darkened room, an upholstered chair, and a soporific lecturer are the means to this end.

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