There was something distinctly different about #FIX18. Walking in to a conference with 95% women felt pretty odd. I was intimidated amongst so many high-heeled, urbanite, overwhelmingly American emergency physicians. This Aussie country GP felt somewhat out of place. It was quite the contrast from the laid back gatherings of my other recent conference experiences. Maybe I shouldn’t have come…
Hiding in the corner and peering into the conference bag I found a bangle with the words “DO NO HARM” inscribed on the outside and “TAKE NO SHIT” on the inside. I saw piles of gold-lettered “feminist” t-shirts flying off the merchandise table and on to torsos. And it became increasingly clear that regardless of background, we all had so much in common. A sense of steely determination. The relief that here, we would be validated in our lived experiences. The shared belief that something important was happening; a watershed moment in the history of medicine.
Dara Kass set the tone of the conference with the opening address, explaining how alike we are to female otters (called “bitches”), who raft together by holding each others’ paws in groups for protection and security. Nods of agreement from the crowd, and a mental linking of paws as we built our FIX raft over the next two days.
The days were filled with TED style talks that spanned the breadth of emotion from heartbreaking, to inspiring, to hilarious. Many speakers shared their very personal stories of adversity, challenge, vulnerability and triumph; leaping way out of their comfort zones into the soft landing of a rapt audience. The outstanding diversity of speakers from across the spectrum of gender, ethnicity, cultural background and queerness lent an authenticity to the message, and was a credit to the program organisers.
I’ll leave it to other sources to share the detail of the talks, but I’ll share some of my highlights.
Dr Nick Gorton, a transman, sharing his fascinating insights as first a woman and then a man in medicine, and the sense of playing a difficult video game which is suddenly switched to “easy” mode – all backed up with nerdy mathematical data.
Dr Shannon McNamara coming out as human with the devastating revelation that patients lives depend on doctors being expected to do the impossible.
Dr Elyse Portillo with a compelling story of the doubters she encountered as a doctor with monocular-vision, and how she proved them all wrong.
The hilarious Dr Mary Claire O’Brien giving her kitchen table rules for leadership and providing many useful ideas to take back to my own leadership roles.
Dr Natalie May with a perfect, mic-dropping rant about why the word “sexy” should be banned in clinical contexts.
Dr Andy Tagg with a heartbreaking and mesmerising account of the worst day of his life, and a call to consider how we shine a light for our patients on their darkest days.
And of course, my Twitter hero Dr Jen Gunter (whom I regret being too shy to talk to!) telling us about how she became Gwyneth Paltrow’s arch-nemesis in her noble fight against vagina-shaming and pseudoscience.
There were many many many other breathtaking moments, and the sheer determination, humanity, grit, achievement and general bad-assery of the speakers was quite amazing to behold.
Although ostensibly centred around emergency medicine, the lessons here are applicable to all corners of the medical world and beyond. Gender issues are human issues which affect every person in every profession. There is something at FIX for everyone.
On a personal note, it was a refreshing break from my new life to spend time with some genuinely old mates, some of whom I’ve conferenced with on 4 continents now. I doubt they know how much it meant to me, but I am so grateful.
But now as we all disperse back to our normal lives in our own little worlds, I for one am left with the overwhelming impression that times are changing. Things WILL get better. How could they not, with such incredible women and men leading the way?
I’m glad to be part of the sea-otter raft, which is growing bigger and bigger by the day. And for everyone else out there… climb aboard, bitches! There’s always room for more.
As my fingers over the “publish” button, I have just learned that Dr Kerryn Phelps, a proudly gay, Australian female GP, has won a crucial Federal by-election and now holds the balance of power in Australian parliament! Congratulations Dr Phelps!