It’s been quite a while since a conference blew my mind, and having been to four SMACC conferences, I’ve seen the best of the best. But with #badEMfest18, the team from Brave African Discussions in Emergency Medicine has pulled off a conference so insanely good, it has set a new bar for conferences everywhere.
But what, exactly, made these four days so amazing…?
Was it the warm welcome into the #badEMfest18 family as soon as I touched down in Cape Town? The over-and-above hospitality from Craig Wylie & co, personally chauffeuring out-of-towners to and from trail runs, drinks, dinners, sunrise hikes and airports?
Was it the stunning location on a horse farm in the stunning Overberg region of South Africa? It was pretty nice waking up to the the rolling hills and craggy peaks overlooking our comfortable campsite, and the soundtrack of thundering hoofbeats and morning birdsong. Perhaps it was the picturesque walking trails and refreshing swimming dam that provided endless opportunities for relaxation and recreation.
Or maybe it was the creation of a village out of nothing, the heart of which was the speakers tent / bar / campfire / open air dining room / stage area. It’s here where delegates came to gather, learn, relax, and forge the kind of connections that can only be made under a canopy of stars in the wilderness.
Was it the gathering together 150 medical, paramedical, nursing and health types from Africa and across the globe? Or the way that nationality, speciality and seniority faded into the background as we were connected first and foremost by our common humanity?
The wifi came via a satellite dish on a truck parked on a nearby hill, and was patchy at best. But, for a group of social media tragics, was this precisely why it was so amazing? Instead of being glued to our phones and reaching outwards to the wider world, we were able to focus inwards, be more present, and connect better with the people all around us.
Was it relaxing with a delicious local gin under the stars while being entertained by talented local musicians? (Do yourself a favour and check out these guys and this talented lady). Or the wonderful craziness of an outdoor karaoke party, where the dust from the dance floor clings to you for days?
Was it so good because of the many outstanding African speakers talking about how they provide the most outstanding care possible within the challenges of their resource limited environment? This really resonated with me and my rural Australian context so much more than the cutting edge bells and whistles of first world emergency medicine. Heike Geduld‘s opening speech really set the tone, and Don Pinnock‘s talk on social determinants was a highlight for many.
Then again, perhaps it was the clinical pearls. I now know how to fashion an eye irrigation tool out of a butterfly needle, assess a collapsed athlete at a sporting event and manage all manner of paediatric foreskin presentations (hint: keep calm and carry on).
Or maybe it was the pure fun and excitement of trudging through the wilderness to rescue two casualties in Ross Hofmeyr‘s incredible wilderness med simulation workshop.
Was it the inspiration from the wonderful speakers, with their messages of advocacy (Nat Thurtle), technology (Vytautas Aukstakalnis), humanity (Tammie Ballie-Stanton), inclusion (Kaleb Lachenicht), vulnerability (Kirsten Kingma), kindness (Andy Tagg), leadership (Sa’ad Lahri), culture and family (Vidya Lalloo)? After all, it’s not a great conference unless you FEEL ALL THE FEELS, hug strangers, cry in public, hold hands and shout “Ubuntu”! Brave discussions, indeed.
It was all of those things, and more, that made #badEMfest the best conference I’ve ever experienced.
I want to thank the organisers and helpers (Kat, KK, Craig, Jo, Eric, Willem and countless others) for pulling off an audacious dream, and also for giving me the opportunity to speak at a major conference for the first time. A personal thanks must go to those who helped me with my speaker’s nerves (particularly Ross, Natalie, Andy & Ian) and again to Ian for including me in a workshop faculty of outstanding educators while helping me to battle my imposter syndrome.
An experience like this turns complete strangers into new friends, and old friends into better ones. “These are my people”. #badEMfest18, I am so honoured to have been a small part of this huge exciting thing. Stay Brave, you wonderful people.