Who are you and why are you at my conference?

I just spent 4 days at a medical conference. And that’s my excuse for not posting for almost two weeks.

But being away from the office and family should have given me plenty of time to work on a post, right? Nope. When I attend a conference, I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off, primarily because the conference planners inevitably schedule two sessions I need to attend at the same time. I try not to leave a session once I am in the room, because it’s kinda rude to the speakers, in my opinion. But sometimes I just can’t help it. I’m there on my client’s dime, so I just have to make sure I get to as many relevant sessions, posters, and industry events as possible. The end product is a conference report on the cutting-edge research, hot topics, and trends in the field, as well as what industry is up to—the research they are supporting and the products they are promoting.

I’ve been going to this particular conference for years now, and I’ve found that my writing has slowly shifted from a detailed description of cutting-edge research and clinical trial results to the inclusion of commentaries on the impact of the research on the practice of medicine within the specialty. This year, my report will be moving even further away from the nitty-gritty of the research. Instead of writing up a huge, detailed conference report, I am tasked with describing the rationale and impact of the research within the larger context of current concepts, trends, and policy changes. While I still ran around like my pants were on fire, this year, I was able to sit and listen and not worry so much about getting down all the details from a particular table or graph (for the record, I have and I will never photograph someone’s slides or poster; I think that’s a conference faux pas and feels a little like spying). I think the resulting report is going to be shorter, but it will be much more informative and, ultimately, more satisfying to me as a writer. I was finally able to move over to the analysis/synthesis/evaluation side of Bloom’s taxonomy wheel, rather than just reporting on what I saw and heard.

In the same way, it’s taken me a few years, but I am finally succumbing to the realization that a diagnostic or therapeutic agent is more than just its MOA (gasp, choke, cough, WHAT?!?!), and that its clinical efficacy, safety, and utility are the most important information for most practicing physicians. Pharmacokinetics is interesting, but the dose and what the drug does at that dose are what the doc needs to know when caring for a patient. As a scientist, it’s been a hard lesson, and I’ve fought against it, trying to insert science where I can, getting others (client, agency, and audience) interested in how things work, not just that they work. In the end, though, the issues that must be understood have to do with the clinical use of the agents, how they impact patient care, improve outcomes, impact the cost of health care delivery, decrease patient risk, etc., etc., beyond just how the agent works in the body.

I also know now that I should have approached the conferences I attended at a graduate student in the same way. Rather than worry about just the data – which IS really important, I am certainly not implying that it isn’t – I needed to step back and see how that data fit into the larger rationale for the research, the impact the research would have on the field, and how it might impact the direction of my research. Instead, I got freaked out about being scooped, and dejected that I might be going down the wrong track and wasting my time. Grad school can really mess with your head, huh?

Back to the present, I am really looking forward to writing this conference report, moreso than past reports. I feel like it gives me a chance to teach, to put things in context, in actionable terms. To help my team and my client understand why research is trending the way it is, and how that might impact their decisions and strategies. It’s gonna be good.

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