Peter G Brindley MD FRCPC, University of Alberta, Canada.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is Panto Season. It is also time for the 2018 Intensive Care Society’s (modestly) entitled ‘State of the Art’ conference. As the good and the great of our medical guild descend on the UK capital, this author is thrilled to report a simple cure to a previously fatal disease. With a happy tear on my cheek, I believe more and more medical presentations will be healed from erstwhile “Death by Powerpoint”. Multidisciplinary presenters will increasingly tell a compelling story, banish unnecessary slides, and -shock and horror- put the audience’s needs ahead of their ego. In doctor-speak, the prognosis for this medical conference is cautiously optimistic.

Instead of old-fangled Powerpoint, we have new-fangled Pecha Kucha: with no more than 20 slides, no longer than 20 seconds each. This means that those behind the lectern had better rehearse if they don’t wish to look the fool. Alongside Pro-Con Debates we have the- always cheeky, which is why its popular- Cauldron. Trainees will be given leave to utter ‘heresies’ that might otherwise be grumbled to death in the back-hallway. We also have so-called experts “unplugged and unscripted”, and others fearlessly atop soapboxes belting it out. In short, we all have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of disruptive innovation. We have three precious days to change the narrative, advance the craft, and renew our purpose. I don’t wish to concern anybody, but I have heard reports of plans to loosen ties.

Intensive Care Medicine is all about “balance”: whether we are discussing work-life balance, appropriate resuscitation wishes, or education-style that is “fit for task”. Put another way, and as Oscar Wilde is credited with saying: “everything in moderation; including moderation”. Accordingly, the best conferences will balance ‘sizzle and steak’ and ‘fun and facts’. We still have to be careful that serious topics do not get addressed in an overly frivolous manner, and this is where the organising committee deserves special praise. We should also take a moment to celebrate how education is becoming more multi-disciplinary, female-fair and useful to countries that aren’t WEIRD: western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. I don’t wish to scare the horses but you might even hear the patient perspective.

Using one of the oldest presentation tropes I will now ‘switch gears’, and assume a serious paternal expression. I might even suck on the frame of my glasses for extra effect. This is because, sometimes, learning can’t be just fun and games. Sometimes, you, and I, simply need to bolt ourselves to a chair and think and think till our brains hurt. While I am doing my “the youth of today” speech let me also state the blinking obvious: as much fun as conferences are, they are merely a distraction from what awaits on Monday morning. Patients will not care that you thoroughly enjoyed yourself and stayed up too late. You may have received a breath of fresh air, but now it’s their turn.

When I was an “unloved and overworked” trainee (cue the sad music) the annual conference was a blessed relief and a brief “knees up”. However, medicine will always be about the three a’s- availability, affability, and ability- and not about the number of pharma pens you and I can pilfer. As a spotty registrar I learnt not because I was special and not because the conference lectures were well delivered: I was not and they were not. Instead, I simply threw myself at every opportunity. This was partly because I couldn’t believe my luck and partly because I attended a University whose Latin motto was “Tuum Est”. In other words, this conference, and your education is ultimately “up to you”. In my occasionally humble opinion, that is a perennially “state of the art” idea. Like any christmas panto, I want an experience that is equal parts refreshing and profound. I expect this one to deliver for the whole ICU family: “oh no you don’t, oh yes I do”. 

You can meet Peter at the Conference - I'm sure you'll catch him at the Party too!

Why not register for the meeting here  there's still time!  You can check out the program on the SOA site.