I wrote this satirical piece following my experiences of ECTRIMS last year - hope you enjoy!
In early October of this year, I
was fortunate enough to attend the 29th Congress of the European
Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) and the 18th
Annual Conference of Rehabilitation in MS (RIMS) in Copenhagen, Denmark. During
my final year at medical school, I undertook a research project at the
Institute of Neurology and an abstract I had submitted to ECTRIMS was accepted
for a poster presentation.
ECTRIMS was to be my first
experience of an international scientific conference. I was excited about
participating in this prestigious event but also nervous at the prospect of
being asked difficult questions by stern-looking professors with bow-ties during
my designated ‘Poster Session’.
ECTRIMS was apparent from the moment I set foot
on the airplane at London Gatwick. I began to spot other people carrying poster
tubes; looking anxious but seemingly relieved that they had been allowed to
carry the fruits of their endeavour on-board despite the budget airlines strict
rules on cabin baggage dimensions. The conference was to be held in the Bella
Center located 6 kilometres south of Copenhagen’s city centre. As I entered the
arrivals area of the airport I realised I must have made a mistake; was the
conference being held at the airport itself? Hundreds of attractive-looking
people were holding up placards from pharmaceutical companies ready to welcome
in delegates to ECTRIMS 2013. Scuffles erupted as one drug company attempted to
reach the front barrier in place of another. As I scanned the various placards
for my own name, it dawned on me that the house-officer from Hammersmith
Hospital was not to be chauffeur-driven to the conference; he would have to
take the Metro.
As I entered the Bella Center, I
was struck by the scale of the conference and the sheer number of delegates.
There was a palpable air of excitement as colleagues reunited and caught-up on
recent news. I had arranged to meet my supervisor at one of the drug company’s
‘Hospitality Suites’. I could see his look of disdain as I approached
ten-minutes late; one hand filled with free pens, the other clutching a pharma ice-cream,
my neck seemingly strained by a garland of USB sticks and a delegate rucksack balanced
on my forehead. After a brief discourse, we arranged to meet the following day
after the Plenary Session which would include a ‘Welcome to Copenhagen’ speech
given by Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark and a ‘Cultural Feature’. Neither of
these features disappointed. Queen Margarethe II, a patron of the Danish MS
Society gave an inspirational speech emphasising the economic and social burden
of multiple sclerosis (MS). This was followed by a ‘Cultural Feature’; a
deafening barrage of drums followed by the tingle of glockenspiels.
As the conference progressed, I
enjoyed attending various lectures, teaching sessions and Satellite Symposia
which provided a broad overview of the latest developments in MS research.
Naturally, some sessions were better than others, but overall and in my humble
opinion I felt the standard was exceptionally high. As time went on, the
nervous anticipation for my own poster session grew, made worse by the fact my
poster had been short-listed for a prize and hence stood below an enormous red
rosette with the words ‘top poster score’
inscribed within it. I began to imagine worst-case scenarios. What if my
inability to answer a question was reported to my seniors? Worse still, could
an interested bystander one day be on an interview-panel cross-examining me for
a specialty post? As it turned out, the time flew by and I enjoyed answering
the questions posed to me. I was flattered that people took an interest in my
hard work and I was given ideas for further studies.
Prior to attending ECTRIMS, I was
informed that as a shortlisted candidate for a poster prize, I could be phoned
on the penultimate evening of the conference to be told I had won one of five
awards. This would mean giving a short presentation on the final day of the
conference and receiving a stipend for my hard endeavour. I was sure to keep my
phone on the ‘loud’ setting as I pondered how I would spend my winnings.
Perhaps I would put it towards the purchase of an emblematic piece of Danish
furniture. Better still, a year’s supply of Danish Butter Cookies. The evening
progressed, and I began to convince myself that there must be a fault in my
mobile phone but the other calls I was receiving disputed this theory. At the
stroke of midnight, clarity began to emerge and it became obvious I had most
likely been un-successful this year.
Since returning to London, I have
had time to reflect on what I learnt at ECTRIMS. Firstly, I was amazed by the
sheer number of people who have an interest in the field of MS. Whilst this can
be overwhelming, there was clear evidence of vibrant and effective
collaborations. Secondly, there seems to be a lot of excitement amongst
clinicians and researchers alike at the emergence of a number of new and
effective Disease-Modifying Therapies for treating relapsing-remitting MS.
Finally, I was inspired by how much emphasis was placed on research in
progressive MS, a field where effective therapies have traditionally remained
I look forward to attending the 30th ECTRIMS Congress next
year in Boston; and who knows… maybe this time my telephone will ring!