Muna Al Jawad is a Consultant Geriatrician at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton. Here she discusses the BGS Fringe which will be taking place at the BGS Autumn Meeting in London on 23 November. She tweets @OPWhisperer
The idea for the BGS Fringe comes from an emotion: Frustration, and a cause: Resistance. Frustration first. I realise this might be heresy (especially on a blog for the BGS) but the national conference really frustrates me. Geriatricians are the funniest, quirkiest and most humble of doctors. Lots of us chose geriatrics because we want to work with geriatricians. Of all the hospital specialists, we pride ourselves on being the most holistic, we see aim to see our patients as human beings, within their network of family and carers. “Aha!” the geriatrician will say on a ward round, “I know Mrs Jones, she loves Elvis and has a watch with a cat on it” (I actually said that last week).
I have colleagues who quote Wittgenstein, use cricketing metaphors, understand Medieval English, help patients with their knitting, are passionate about punk bands and have been to Lidl to buy snacks for a patient who loves German food. Honestly, that’s just in my department.
In our clinical lives we rely on pragmatism more than evidence. Haven’t we all felt the thrill of crossing off all the medication the cardiologist started 3 weeks ago? As leaders we are inclusive, we believe in multi-disciplinary teams, flat hierarchies, change from the bottom up. We are often brilliant educators, learner-centred, listening and responding rather than lecturing. In summary- amazing people.
Our national conference, in my opinion, does not do justice to these qualities. I often leave it feeling frustrated. Sometimes there are glimmers of inspiration, a few who dare to do something different but mostly I feel frustrated. The fringe is an attempt to redress the balance; to showcase our quirkiness; to recognise our humility has an outrageous side; to learn differently; to be more like ourselves.
And resistance. For me, this is what the healthcare humanities are about. Hospitals can be inhuman places. Floors have to be clean, clinical areas free from clutter and slippers disposable. Beds have numbers, clinicians have lists, trainees have eportfolio, the service has key performance indicators, research has p-values. If we don’t resist we will be consumed by these things. Without resistance, we risk becoming robots.
People die, they suffer, healthcare professionals witness and commit some of the worst things imaginable. If we don’t resist we will be overwhelmed by these things. Without resistance we risk becoming zombies.
We resist by being human, using the humanities. We might use philosophy, film, theatre or jokes to make sense of the world. We might express our feelings through music, poetry or drawing. The fringe is an attempt to capture some of these small acts of resistance.
There is nothing wrong with the mainstream conference, please submit your abstract, do your talk and show your poster. But please also consider the holistic view- geriatricians are people too. Why not submit something to the BGS Fringe as well? Join us in resisting inhumanity and help me be less frustrated this November.