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  • Writer's pictureHannah Walker

‘Flipping the Tin’ podcast episode 4: Conferencing in the Medical Profession

We are back with episode 4 of our podcast ‘Flipping the Tin’ where we chat with industry specialists, policymakers, and conference attendees on the future of events! Discussing the insights of virtual and in-person conferencing within the medical profession, we have two amazing guests today, Susie Huang and Emilie McKinnon, to talk about their experiences!

Susie Huang, M.D., Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School and Radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is an expert in high-gradient diffusion MRI acquisition and analysis and has made significant contributions to developing methods for resolving axonal micro-structure in the living human brain using strong gradients.

Emilie McKinnon, M.D., Ph.D., is a student at the Medical University of South Carolina. She started her medical imaging career in Belgium at the KU Leuven where she received her master's in biomedical engineering in 2013. Since then she has completed her Ph.D on advanced diffusion MRI methodology, during which she developed techniques that quantify brain micro-structure in vivo.

1. What has been your experience of digital/hybrid conferences as a medical professional?

Susie: I’ve been involved in organising the annual reading for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, even before the pandemic started, and we planned to have an in-person conference in May of 2020 and that basically got converted to all virtual... When the pandemic started, it was not how we envisioned the conference to take place. There were definitely bumps to iron out throughout the process. We learned a lot of lessons along the way, for instance, much of the audience may not actually listen to the lectures ahead of time. So sometimes it's good to provide a space for people to listen to the lectures and then ask questions of the speakers. I think the social aspects, connections and networking, have improved greatly through use of technology. So there have definitely been a lot of improvements that have been made in the last year.

Emilie: Last year has been very interesting, I think it’s actually been quite lucky for me. I finished my Ph.D in 2019 and started medical school full time right after and then the pandemic happened and I actually got the opportunity to keep in contact with the research community through virtual conferencing. It was a really great help, I was able to do medical school full time while still being able to keep up with research. The first conference was a little bit challenging... It was hard to engage and have an actual conference experience. But we just recently had a second meeting, virtually. And I felt it's not the same, but it was getting much closer. I actually had a lot of social interactions. We had some virtual happy hours. I managed to watch some talks, ask some questions. And I felt inspired after I left the conference, which is what I normally feel like after we have a research meeting.

2. How do you think the pandemic has affected medical conferencing and your work?

Susie: It has really impeded our ability to meet trainees in a more spontaneous fashion and to interview people. So I think one of the barriers that has also been introduced with the pandemic and conferences practically is that people may not necessarily set aside the time during their work week to go to the conference. So your attention is diverted, and you're not necessarily fully engaged in that experience. So it's just hard, I think it's human nature, not to really pay attention to things that are not immediately in front of you.

Emilie: I just wanted to resonate on something that Susie said... I think one of the major differences is normally an in person conferencing, you are there physically, you can't really do much else… you are forced to be engaged and be present. And I think that does make a really, you know, big difference putting people together...And I do think that, while it did not impact me personally, this year has impacted a lot of people that are at a similar level.

3. What do you feel digital conferencing brings to the table for young doctors?

Emilie: It probably will help me because it will allow me to find time to keep up to date with research because it's one of the biggest things that I was afraid of when transitioning into the clinical world...And then as a you know, as a young female to, if there's any family things that arise as well, it will allow me to participate much easier. But then I guess you can also say, maybe a downside would be that it would be really easy for my training program to say, oh, but you can attend virtually, so we're not going to give you the time off to go, which would maybe hamper it as well...I could see it also potentially being a negative, of being pulled in two directions, because there's the option of staying as well. But I guess the future will tell if that will happen.

Susie: I guess with regard to being able to communicate with and participate in the dialogue about research, I do think virtual conferencing can have a really positive impact on that. One of the issues that our society has faced in the last decade or two is this continuous attrition of medical doctors being involved and interested in the society...So being able to engage those medical doctors, one of the very practical considerations is the time available for them to participate in conferences like this. And the hope is that by maybe making the content available for maybe with hybrid conferencing, that you might be able to engage more professionals from the medical community to participate in these dialogues... I think it's important to make sure that with any sort of hybrid conferencing, moving forward, that people who are participating virtually are still seen and with an equal footing or actually still have that participation that's regarded to the same degree as somebody who's in-person. I'm not sure if there's any way to really level that divide, but at least paying attention to it and making sure that people who are participating virtually are afforded the same opportunities to ask questions. To give them the same amount of time for making their voices heard.

Interested to know more? You can listen to the full discussion through the link below when it's out!


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