Pure Gold – the SMACC Experience

There were fire twirlers and tribal drummers. Confetti rained down on khaki-clad heroes to the rapturous applause of a live audience. No, this wasn’t the epic grand-finale of a reality TV show. It was the opening ceremony of smaccGOLD, setting the scene for a conference unlike any other.


SMACC stands for “social media and critical care”, and the Gold Coast version was the follow-up to the inaugural SMACC in Sydney last year. Although ostensibly a critical care conference, it also acts as the flagship conference for the FOAM community (Free Open Access Medical education), combining a cutting edge academic program with  innovative education techniques and modern technology. It is a truly international, interdisciplinary meeting, with emergency physicians, anaesthetists, intensivists, paramedics, rural docs, nurses and students coming together from all corners of the globe.

This is NOT the usual top down education handed down by lofty academic institutes to their humble followers. Rather, SMACC is the creation of a bunch of passionate front-line clinicians who are united by their belief in FOAM and quality care. The affiliates are not universities, colleges or hospitals, but websites, blogs and podcasts. It is the ultimate democratisation of education, where students, trainees and specialists from all disciplines stand side by side to share their knowledge and discuss ideas.

As a very occasional emergency doctor still grappling with the basics of resuscitation and trauma care, the hard core clinical topics mostly went over my head. However, there was more than enough juicy content to keep this FOAM-enthusiast / educationalist / critical care novice very happy.

Some highlights for me were:

  • Victoria Brazil talking about medical tribes and some tips on how to cross diplomatic borders
  • Tony Brown’s scathing critique of the peer reviewed journal industry
  • Lauren Westafer’s insightful look into the educational credentials of FOAM
  • Casey Parker’s presentation on empathy in medicine
  • Cliff Reid’s passionate talk about when (not) to stop resuscitation
  • Michelle Johnston’s creative writing workshop
  • Grace Leo’s workshop on engaging presentations –  no more excuses for death-by-powerpoint!

There were also a number of presentations which I didn’t get to see but were so popular that they triggered mini Twitter meltdowns. They included topics such as the dying child, laughter and swearing in medicine, paediatric pearls and chronic pain in ED. I can’t wait to see them when the videos are released.

Looking at that topic list it’s remarkable in that the so-called “soft topics” of medicine were front and centre alongside the more sexy procedural topics. Communication, teamwork, human factors and self-reflection are vital in the delivery of quality patient-centred care, no matter what clinical tribe you’re from. I love the way that SMACC strives to challenge the status quo, to question everything, to make us the best damn clinicians we can possibly be, and to help others do the same by the sharing of collective wisdom.

This was summed up nicely by Simon Carly with this Maya Angelou quote; “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Although the content was certainly inspiring, the real gold was to be found in new friendships. I had met only a handful of fellow delegates before the event, but felt like I already knew dozens more through the power of Twitter. It was absolutely fantastic to put faces to names and it really did feel like a huge reunion of friends you just hadn’t met yet. Despite our different backgrounds, there was a commonality of purpose that made it really easy to strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone. I feel privileged to now count some of the smartest and most thoughtful medicos from around the world as peers and true friends.


The conference ended as w0nderfully and ridiculously as it began; a Star Wars themed team simulation challenge with Hans Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Darth Maul and friends as judges. But as with all of SMACC, the fun and games came with serious learning messages, leaving us with lots of things to think about as we said our sad goodbyes.


The simwars judging panel

The simwars judging panel

As we disperse back to our own corners of the globe, and recover from the misery of #smaccdown, we are left to ponder what lessons we can take away with us. My personal challenges are:

  • to consider how innovative ways of delivering medical education could translate to general practice
  • to take the cutting edge concepts in resuscitation care and apply them to the labour ward setting
  • to keep listening and learning as much as possible from my critical care colleagues to improve my performance in the emergency department
  • to spread the word of FOAM as far and wide as possible
  • and, just maybe, to think about bowing to peer pressure* to create some O&G FOAM content

See you next year in Chicago for #smaccUS !


In the meantime, here are some other great SMACC blog reflections to help ease the withdrawal symptoms:


*I’m looking at you, Tim!

14 thoughts on “Pure Gold – the SMACC Experience

  1. Glad you liked smacc, Penny….important to recognise that critical illness intersects all our spheres and particularly that rural clinicians can embrace initial management of this spectrum.

    I am just stoked that rural clinicians came along and made new connections, both personal and in terms of connecting clinical knowledge

    Labour ward is truly a scary place; one of the few places where I have heard blood ‘glug’

    Love to talk about this – not just about kit like fluid warmers, rapid infusers, PPH drugs, but also human factors, sim, teamwork.

    We recently found that the bed from our delivery room wont fit thro door of theatre…turning a supposed 4m trip into a circumferential 150m dash the long way around hospital

    So…has smacc inspired you to start podcasting yet Penny?

    No pressure!

  2. Pingback: You gotta have love... - KI Doc

  3. Penny, I’ve sent this to key staff at WAGPET and the GPET CEO.

    It’s fantastic and where I think the future lies – recognising the future is already here. What’s next?


    Dr Janice Bell MBBS BA B Ed(Hons) Grad Dip Integ Med Grad Cert CHM GAICD FRACGP

    Chief Executive Officer

    Level 2, 16 Brodie Hall Drive, Technology Park, Bentley Western Australia 6102
    phone: (08) 9473 8200 │ fax: (08) 9472 4686 │ mobile: +61 418 911 622

    This email is intended solely for the intended addressee. If you have received this email in error please notify us immediately by return email. Please do not re-transmit or print this email message, or take any action as a result of knowing its contents, but destroy all copies and any attachments. Any claim to privilege or confidentiality is not waived or lost by reason of mistaken transmission of this email.

  4. yeah I read the tweeting of the SIMWARS scenario with pregnant woman with interest. I guess a mannikins vagina is intimidating to most crit care folks? 😉

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