This weekend I am in Snowmass, CO for the 31st Annual Symposium on Medical Problems of Performing Artists sponsored be the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA). This is a fascinating conference, not just because of the content, but also because of the attendees. So many of the conferences I attend are populated entirely by physicians. The PAMA conference is attended by physicians, therapists, musicians, and music educators. It is so refreshing to see collaborations and to hear different points of view.
As a physician, there is a constant need for continuing education. Some of that need is internal. I enjoy learning. I feel an ethical obligation to keep learning. There are also external requirements, from the state, from the hospitals where I have privileges, and from the specialty boards to which I belong. Physicians are required to get a certain numbers of continuing medical education (CME) credits; the amount for a given time period varies by who is doing the requiring. A certain percentage of the credits need to be in the physician's specialty. This tends to focus continued learning on achieving depth of knowledge in a specialty. I'm in a very luck situation. Working at an academic hospital, I can achieve all of my required credits within my specialty just be attending weekend noon-time grand rounds. Since it is so easy for me to meet my requirements passively, I am able to direct further efforts towards areas of interest or towards building breadth of knowledge.
Medical conferences can be a great source of both education, as well as CME credit. However, they carry a reputation of being excuses for doctors to go on fabulous vacations, with a little education thrown in for good measure. While there is more regulation now, often these educational junkets would be funded by pharmaceutical or medical equipment companies. This could certainly bias the attendees towards the funder, and in worse case scenarios even bias the content of what was being presented. Even at more reputable conferences, the presence of various interests in an exhibit hall and underwriting of some activities are potential sources of bias.
Since I use conferences as a supplementary education source, I have the luxury of being a little more picky in which I select. I try to focus on topics that I want to take a deep dive into, or on areas that I feel a pressing need for further knowledge. Even when the locations are fabulous, I tend to be a bit of a geek. I actually love going to the presentations; it is so nice to be able to show up rested and be able to stay awake for an entire lecture! I also feel guilty about skipping lectures to go off and do something fun; I could miss good learning or networking opportunities. I enjoy the opportunity to be able to focus on learning, without the distractions of work and home life.