The AMEE Student Task Force (STF), sounded to me like some sort of consortium of young mercenaries, being hired for some high stakes mission. But the email informing me of my “conscription”, confirmed it:
Dear Mr Gonsalves,
You have been selected as a member of an elite task force, composed of handpicked medical students from all over the globe. Your target is the AMEE conference, and your task is to sever with service, kill with kindness, and acquire as much as intel as you can while youre at it. Expect extreme sleep deprivation, I hope your training at the General Assemblies has conditioned you for this. You will be receiving specific orders from your designated taskforce Coordinator – commander Black Sheep, shortly.
Okay, maybe it didnt say that.
But our uniforms definitely hinted at some sort of warfare -Baby blue polo shirts. Now I know what youre thinking, how on earth is a baby blue polo supposed to evoke any sort of militaristic feeling. Well that was just it. This was psychological warfare, baby blue is supposed to create a sense of calm, and induce feelings of trust, lovability and reliability of the wearer on the beholder. Boy did it work! “When I see a blue shirt, I see a future leader in medical education”, said one of the conference participants. Id like to think that our vibrant personalities and youthful enthusiasm had something to do with it, but it was probably just the blue polos.
The day before the conference, was marked by the unveiling of the 60man powered, caffeine fueled, twin engine packing machine, that was the STF workforce. We set a new record for the fastest bag packing in STF history, packing over 3000 conference bags, in a little over 4 hours. Not bad for half a day’s work. This was followed by an overview of the Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona (CCIB), the place wed be expected to know like the back of our hands in the coming days.
Our workdays began at 7AM with the STF coordinators rallying the troops with pep talks, “motivational” quotes and a troubleshooting session. We would then quickly scarf down some breakfast and much needed coffee (or tea for the Brits amongst us), as we’d get ready to quickly disperse and face the day.
I was really hit by the massiveness of the entire conference. With over 3000 participants, from around the world coming together to share their passion, trials and triumphs, we were truly at the Mecca of medical education. It appeared as though the boundaries between student and teacher melded, and learning took the front seat. You’d have senior professors and students alike, sharing their thoughts on issues and offering solutions on a wide range of topics like, student engagement, curriculum development and continuing medical education.
This vastness can be overwhelming though. There are so many things going on simultaneously, that it makes some sense to go in with a strategy. This year, apart from the physical guide book we had a website and its accompanying app- Guidebook to help participants do just that. Besides which, you always have the hardened STF veterans, who can offer some valuable advice as they recount serving at the conferences of yore.
The duties of an STF member are wide, and vary from one session to another. You could be assigned to the student desk, the poster area, assist facilitators at their sessions or simply guide participants. In addition, at any given moment, a participant could shoot a question and you’d be expected to volley back an appropriate response. Each of these tasks presented a responsibility and an opportunity to learn. We made the most of the experience, by simply being mindful of those responsibilities while actively participating.
Amongst the sessions, I found the Short Communications on student engagement extremely insightful, be it the University of Sheffield’s initiative to add a “you said it” column to their weekly newsletter to address issues brought up by students, or Lyon-Est Faculty of Medicines student driven reward system to promote student engagement. It was a heartening reminder that even the stickiest issues in medical education are not lost causes, and with tactful interventions, can be solved at the local level. The AMEE Fringe sessions are a crowd favorite, wherein unconventional or provocative ideas in medical education are brought up. You honestly don’t know what to expect- songs on STDs, plays on self-mutilating macabre performers, tea tasting, playing with Play-Doh, or even STF members surprising you a performance or two. Its a surreal experience!
Apart from the content of the conference, you can find yourself inspired by its people. You have stalwarts in medical education like Professors Trudie Roberts and Ronald Harden, President and General Secretary of AMEE, respectively, amongst many other eminent figures, who have made substantial contributions to the field. We were addressed by Salmaan Sana, a founding member of the STF, who gave us a heartfelt motivational message on making the most of our student lives while enjoying the process. It left a strong impression on me, and judging by the rapturous applause, the rest of the STF as well. Even closer home, we had the student coordinators, whose meticulous organization skills and adeptness at creating a happy, efficient taskforce made me wonder if they were medical students or MBA graduates. I’m proud to have donned the blue shirt and been part of such an amazing team whose individual strengths and weaknesses really balanced out to create this super proficient workforce.
So, I guess my hunch of the STF being a special ops force on a high stakes mission, rang true. If I learned anything, its that there are no higher stakes in healthcare, than in the education of its future workforce. Better education, producing better doctors, leading to healthier communities and sustainable healthcare systems. Thus, I leave AMEE with a sense of purpose and hope, a resounding idea, that if they could do it, why can’t we? If anything, its that sense of hope and a drive for betterment, that drives the yearly pilgrimage to this hub of medical education we call the AMEE Conference.
Author: Rahoul Gonsalves