It is ironic that doctors, for whom protecting health are a primary responsibility, contribute to global warming through unnecessary attendances at international conferences.
High quality medical education is essential for patient care, and the educational benefits of conference attendance must also be considered. But “let’s be honest, when did you last learn anything really important at a large meeting?”
Evidence that attending conference lectures improves practice is scant.
Annual scientific meetings serve as a forum for the dissemination of new research findings. The presentations of these meetings should be of high scientific quality because they have the potential to impact future research projects and current clinical practice. Moreover, the publication of these findings as full articles is extremely important to increase its dissemination. Unfortunately, while evaluating the publication rate of 307,028 abstracts presented in biomedical meetings, a systematic review reported that only 37.3% were further published, leaving a great number of studies restricted to the events.
Medical conferences: value for money? 1).
Student/trainee conferences are typically cheaper than professional conferences, but as they are not acknowledged in national scoring systems for medical and surgical training applications, they may have worse attendance than otherwise possible.
In a cross-sectional database review, 162 conferences were identified through a systematic search of two conference databases by three independent researchers. χ2 tests were used to compare scientific quality between student/trainee and professional conferences and the likelihood of offering different types of discounts. Independent t-tests were employed to determine cost differences between the two categories of conferences.
The data revealed that there was no significant difference between student/trainee and professional conference’s likelihood of declaring information on their abstract review processes (p=0.105). There was no difference in speaker seniority, determined by the tool the authors developed (p=0.172). Student/trainee conferences were significantly more likely to offer workshops (p<0.0005) and were cheaper than professional conferences (p<0.0005).
These results show that student/trainee conferences offer a similar level of scientific quality to professional medical conferences in the UK at a fraction of the cost, which should be reflected within the national scoring systems 2).
The advantages of Web conferencing are multiple. It removes the need for long and expensive travels that take up a lot of time, and remove you from your family and practice. By avoiding cost for travel and stay, conferences (and therefore, knowledge) can be made accessible for a larger audience, especially in developing countries. By avoiding travel itself, assuming you do not travel by bike or sailboat, CO2 emission can be reduced too. Online conferencing also allows for a more flexible schedule: you may not be able to attend a conference abroad for that one surgery or appointment that cannot be postponed. In that case you may still be able to attend other lectures or sessions if you can follow them from your office or your home. It is perfectly possible to include checks whether you actually watched a video, which would allow for CME points as you would get during an on-site conference 3).
The quality of a scientific meeting can be quantified by the rate of full publications arising from the presented abstracts and the impact factor of the journals in which the studies were published.
The aim of a study of Sarica et al. was to investigate the publication rates of presentations from the 2013 World Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery (WSSFN) quadrennial meeting.
Scopus and PubMed databases were searched for the authors of the presentations to identify full publications arising from the relevant abstracts. Author and content matching were used to match an abstract with a full publication. Mann-Whitney U and Kruskal-Wallis tests were used for statistical analysis.
In total, 77% (57/74), 56% (44/79), and 50% (79/157) of the paper, flash, and poster presentations, respectively, have been published, with an overall publication rate of 58% (180/310). Articles received a total of 5,227 citations, with an average of 29 ± 64.1 citations per article. The first authors who published their studies had a significantly higher h-index than those who did not publish (p = 0.003). The most preferred journals for publication were Journal of Neurosurgery, Acta Neurochirurgica, and Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery. The majority of the articles (117/180 [65%]) were published in a quartile 1 or 2 journal. The average journal impact factor (JIF) was 4.5 for all presentations, and 7.8 for paper session presentations. Studies presented in paper sessions were published in significantly higher-impact factor journals than those presented in poster sessions (p < 0.001).
The WSSFN Congress had a relatively high overall publication rate (58%) compared to both other neurosurgical congresses and congresses in other scientific fields. The average JIF of 7.8 is a reflection of the high quality and high impact of the paper session presentations 4).
Six Tips for Getting the Most from Your Next Conference
Sit at the front during talks: Even if this is not your style (or especially if this is not your preference), this will help you feel more involved in the talk.
Take copious notes: Whether you need them or not, taking notes during presentations helps focus the mind.
Rate all speakers for content and presentation: This is a way to keep yourself alert as well as help yourself think critically about talks’ content. For the best presentations, it will also give you notes about style or techniques to integrate into your next talk.
Break away: People tend to attend conferences with colleagues, co-workers, and friends – people they already know. But during talks and at meal times, try and sit with people you don’t know. You are bound to learn something new, whether it is about work in your field, how other institutions function, or how different people approach questions relevant to your work.
Be excited about your science: If you’re excited about your science, others will feed off of that excitement. Whether it is during a formal talk, a panel discussion, a poster session or just talking to people in the hallways, keep in mind that you are selling your science. Also remember that everyone is being bombarded with talks and research: the enthusiasm you muster will go a long way to getting peoples’ attention.
Size matters: Small meetings often have a singlemindedness about a particular subject that can benefit all participants. There are likely to be fewer competing sessions at small meetings, and you can probably actually meet the speakers, instead of stand in line.