A neurological community: the importance of reconnecting

07 Mar 2022

In Summer 2019, a number of international conferences were held virtually - a first for most. The overwhelming commentary from colleagues at ECTRIMS, the EAN's national meeting and the CMSC's annual meeting was that the sessions were interesting, but it just wasn't the same as attending a conference in person.

Delegates shared how there was such an important aspect missing - that of connecting, sharing, of feeling part of a community and of engaging with like-minded peers. Huge amounts of effort were flung into creating virtual networking opportunities, cafe-style chat rooms, using interactive apps and chat-functions, although none of them quite recreated the sense of connectivity to be found around a coffee urn or an academic poster.

Fast-forward two years, and we have adapted - to the lack of travel, the flexibility, the comfier clothing. We are content to attend courses and conferences virtually. We seem to even prefer it. Perhaps enough time has passed that we have forgotten how lacking the experience was, back in 2019. I think we need to remember.

'Challenging as virtual learning was to many of us at the beginning of the pandemic, we have grown accustomed to it - but we shouldn't forget that in-person learning remains the gold standard.

There are so many advantages to face-to-face learning - we access more information through body language and voice of both speakers and delegates. It's easier to speak up or interject, creating valuable dialogue across experiences. There's an opportunity to connect, problem-solve and network as well as generate group excitement about a subject - this is lost in the best online experience.'

Daiga Heisters, Head of Parkinson's Academy

The past two years have been some of the hardest in healthcare, with lone working, isolation and burnout all increasing. We know the value of connection, experiencing mutual support and encouragement and learning from peers. You have told us.

There was a good site and number of people - it made for excellent interactive discussions within a group that are very experienced. I really like the length of time allocated after each debate - the interactive discussions were almost more educational/interesting than the debates themselves!'

Delegate at MS Cutting Edge Science 2021

Beyond the simple need that we all have to feel part of a community, is the enthusiasm and inspiration to improve practice that comes from hearing about the experiences of peers around the country.

'The 'feel' in the room was amazing - there was a buzz, an energy - it was brilliant.'

Delegate at MS Cutting Edge Science 2021

Our MS Cutting Edge Science meeting in December 2021

Our learning model, particularly, was developed to encourage interaction, discussion and debate, and to draw on each other's clinical experience and service knowledge to bring together a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Whilst we did our best to recreate this within a virtual setting, the value of discussing a case around an actual table, of throwing around ideas to improve care or solve a challenging problem, cannot be overstated.

'Our learning model is still seen as radically different in some fields, but 25 people debating a new clinical practice around a shared table will effect change in real life whereas 300 people in a lecture theatre falling asleep probably will not - cannot.'

Dr Peter Fletcher, Co-founder and Academic Director of Parkinson's Academy

Tweet after our MS Foundation MasterClass in person, December 2021

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