The COVID-19 pandemic left many of us missing social interaction and hungry for a change of scenery. As someone who had never been to a vascular surgery conference, I was already eagerly anticipating the Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery (SCVS) meeting in 2020 when it was canceled. Fortunately, the vaccine made the 2021 SCVS meeting possible and so my excitement and enthusiasm to attend were doubled. Though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, any nervousness to present was quickly overcome by the prospect of spending time with my fellow trainees in Miami.
I have never been one to shy away from public speaking, but as a second-year resident, the thought of a room full of attending surgeons was a little daunting. I watched as even my seemingly infallible chief residents were nervous to perform. After about 100 times practicing in front of the hotel mirror, and cautiously observing others’ presentation styles, my time at the podium arrived.
Once I took the stage, however, my nerves faded. The once daunting task of effectively and succinctly presenting my points morphed into a chance to discuss a topic near to my heart with a room of people who were also passionate about the topic. My research focused on what attracts medical students to vascular surgery and how we can continue to pique interest in a specialty that can be underrepresented in medical school curricula. As someone who passionately, although somewhat biasedly, believes we are in one of the best fields of medicine, I want more people to know about it. I also want to attract the best of the best amongst medical students. It was a huge resource to have an audience who are not only educated in the subject, but also share the same passions. At the conclusion of my presentation, I stepped away thankful that I had many brilliant surgical minds contributing to the discussion and offering new insight.
As a runner, I always prefer to run with someone else. Running with a partner challenges my competitive nature to push harder and faster. Having someone to talk with also takes my mind away from any physical pain. This concept that working alongside someone increases performance rang true as I attended sessions at SCVS. The interview trail was the first place I took note of the fact that vascular surgeons know each other well. This factor confirmed my career choice— and increased my fervor to match. Re-witnessing the interconnectedness at SCVS reminded me why vascular surgery is so special.
As researchers and surgeons, we can challenge one another to improve and increase the quality of patient care. As friends, we can support one another, which combats the ever-growing challenge of burnout. Complacency and inertia are a surgeon’s worst enemies. Attending the conference and listening to the work other vascular surgeons are conducting challenged me to ask more questions about my own clinical decisions. It pushed my mind to ask, “Where can we take this next?” All the while, I knew I was developing connections with individuals who could help me answer that question.
My final takeaway from attending a vascular scientific meeting is the importance of fostering these relationships in person. After a year of social distancing and virtual substitutes for education and meetings, we may ask why we should spend valuable time to travel to a meeting.
While the SCVS did an excellent job of accommodating the challenges of hosting a meeting during a pandemic when many individuals faced travel restrictions, the hybrid format did highlight the importance of physical presence. Being in the room at the same time as the presenter allowed for more meaningful discussions to take place.
We could bounce ideas off one another, and the entire group could participate. Obviously, in-person attendance also made it easier to meet new people and connect. One of the many reasons I chose our specialty is the type of person it attracts: hardworking, compassionate and smart. It is an honor to have my fellow vascular surgeons as colleagues. I will certainly leap at the opportunity to attend the next conference and continue to interact and bond with my peers.
Madeline Dills, MD, is a third-year integrated vascular surgery resident in the Louisiana State University (LSU) division of vascular surgery in New Orleans.