Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sharing the heavy lifting at conferences

This month's blog is meant to stimulate discussion.

Today transfusion medicine (TM) associations are largely composed of medical laboratory technologists*, nurses, and physicians and not in equal numbers. In many TM associations, from most to least, it's often technologists -->physicians-->nurses, although the number of nurse members is growing. Other groups also belong to TM associations, e.g., scientists, recruiters, administrators, industry representatives, etc. But for purposes of this blog, I'll stick to the doc-tech-nurse troika, where a "doc" could be an MD or PhD level scientist or MD-PhD.

So why is it that at many conferences the speaker list is mostly docs with technologists and nurses a definite minority on the programs? Today more non-doc health professionals are speaking at conferences than in the past, but there is still a way to go.

And there may be a difference between countries as well. A quick glance at the AABB program shows something for all, as shown by Saturday's program for 2007

Similarly the May CSTM conference program had a selection of topics targetted at techs and nurses, with speakers from each group.

It may be my imagination but are there fewer non-docs in this Down Under program?

Possible rationales for the preponderance of doc speakers at TM conferences:

1: Annual meetings are scientific conferences and docs do the bulk of research. True, but should not conferences represent the interests of all an association's members? And there are many topics that involve research and best practices that could be presented by non-docs.

2. Only docs can afford to go to conferences these days, or possibly are better funded by their employers. And docs tend to listen only to other docs. Okay, this one's slightly tongue-in -cheek...

3. It's a hangover from the old days when the physician was the paternalistic "captain of the health care ship", in which "father knows best". See

As someone who has spoken at many conferences over the years, I know that presenting is heavy lifting. It's more onerous if you need to create a brand new talk, as opposed to updating the same talk given many times before.

But there are many types of heavy lifting. For example, if you examine TM conference organizing committees, in Canada it's typically a physician who is the conference chair, co-chair, or scientific chair and he or she works long hours as a dedicated volunteer. However, it's often technologists who do most of the heavy lifting required to put on a successful conference. And usually their trench work happens after hours, eating into family, relaxation, and recreational time. The case can be made that it's a matter of technologists being more numerous than docs, but I suspect that it's more than that.

Volunteering is wonderful but it's only just that the load be shared equitably. I'm unaware of the situation in other countries that rely heavily on volunteers to organize conferences.

As an aside, I use the term volunteer loosely as sometimes staff are told they are volunteering.

In summary, many presentations by docs are relevant and of interest to non-docs. But it benefits everyone when all professionals in the TM community are active participants in the presentations at conferences, not relegated mainly to trench duties, and when every team member's expertise is validated by the honour of being an invited speaker.

I think it's a sign of a discipline's maturity and strength when there are lots of non-docs on the conference program. It would be nice to see more docs on organizing committees too.

Just some food for thought....

* also known as clinical laboratory scientists, medical laboratory scientists, and biomedical scientists