Summary: This fortnight Professor Harden reflects on “the best ever AMEE conference”. Description: I returned from the AMEE 2013 conference in Prague with many new thoughts and ideas. The programme and the venue appear to have been well received and according to a number of emails it may have been “the best ever AMEE conference”. Ten short communication presenters were selected from the 465 communications to be presented at the conference to illustrate the range of topics covered. They responded to the challenge of introducing their presentation in 90 seconds in the opening session and I think that this was appreciated. I had, however, an unfortunate experience. The first presenter knocked a glass of water over my computer, which was open at the podium. Fortunately I had a backup on a thumb drive, which I was able to pass to the technicians back stage to upload onto another computer. Sadly, I have not been able to resuscitate my computer.

In line with the theme of the meeting, “Colouring outside the lines”, Victoria Brazil from Australia, in a plenary presentation, Connecting medical education and patient care in the 21st Century, illustrated some imaginative ways in which the education programme in a medical school could connect better with what happens in the real world of the practicing doctor. To illustrate the disconnect at present, she described a series of situations where UK Royals Kate and William interviewed a range of stakeholders about what would happen if their son, George, decided to study medicine. She was followed by David Eisenberg from the Harvard School of Public Health who gave a powerful presentation on the need to pay more attention in medical school to nutrition. His title was “See one, taste one, make one, teach one: Enhancing medical education in an area of global obesity and diabetes.” Again, he gave imaginative and innovative answers to the problem. Both presentations will be well worth looking at on the MedEdWorld website when they are published in the Resources area in September.

I was impressed by the number of conference participants who stayed to the end of the conference. This may have been due to the fact that the conference started earlier on Sunday and stopped at lunchtime on Wednesday, the fact that Prague is more accessible by plane than Lyon or that we had two well-known presenters in the medical education field as speakers. Geoff Norman gave, as always, a powerful and provocative presentation, The things we know, the things we think we know, but don’t, and the things we don’t know, but should. He started his presentation with a series of statements about medical education which he asked the audience to rate as true or false. While on the surface they answer appeared true, he argued from the evidence that he presented that they were false. I found myself, however, disagreeing with him on a number of counts and in the questions that followed the possible disconnect between limited research in the laboratory with what happens in the real world was highlighted. I was delighted to see, however, the meeting ending on a high note with an appreciative audience, some good take-home messages and active discussion and audience involvement stimulated by Geoff. The final speaker was Cees van der Vleuten who talked on Taking evidence seriously: What would happen to our training programmes? He argued articulately for the need to pay more attention to what works in education. His useful selection was:

1) Elaboration and processing information leads to more profound learning;
2) Working in groups and collaborative learning is effective;
3) There is no learning without feedback;
4) Coaching and mentoring is valuable;
5) The care for patients is a powerful way of learning; and
6) Attention to generic skills, for example professionalism, communication, and teamwork, works.

He proposed a radical change where staff no longer spend a large part of their time transmitting information and instead spend more time facilitating learning. IT, for example, through MedEdWorld, could be used more effectively and efficiently for information transmission. Paul Worley, Dean at Flinders University, made the point that to implement the approaches being proposed by Geoff and Cees we need a different sort of teacher. Lambert Schuwirth raised the question as to whether we are too concerned with instruction and instructional design and not enough with the student as a learner and how we should help the student to mature as a learner, including self-direction and self-regulation.

One of the great things about the conference I find is the opportunity to network, to talk with colleagues, and to get the latest news. Angela Fan told me how her paper, having been rejected by Medical Teacher and re-written taking into account the referees comments, had been submitted and accepted for publication in the Lancet! We had the opportunity at the conference to meet face-to-face with 25 of the participants who had completed the recent ESME Online Course. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the ESME courses and we are planning a reunion of all participants.

A major event at the conference was the presentation of the first ASPIRE-to-Excellence awards. Eight schools received awards. One school, Southern Illinois University, received recognition of their excellence in all three areas being considered – Assessment of students, Student engagement in the curriculum and in the medical school, and Social accountability as the mission of the medical school. One other school, Aga Khan Medical College, was acknowledged as excellent in two of the areas. Full details of the awards are on www.aspire-to-excellence.org and the video recording will be available on www.mededworld.org. I was impressed by the interest shown at the conference by the ASPIRE initiative.

This year we offered the conference live online to those unable to be with us in Prague and had participants from 26 countries around the world. It was great to see a conference participant from Sudan who received an award for the best conference poster being congratulated immediately in a text from the Dean of the Medical School in Khartoum, who happened to be watching the session online.

BEME also featured prominently in the conference. At one session, an interesting analogy was drawn with reviews of evidence in clinical practice. António Vaz Carneiro from the Cochrane Centre in Lisbon noted that he knew of no doctor who said they had changed their practice based on a Cochrane report. Instead, they were informed by clinical guidelines that interpreted the Cochrane reviews. Perhaps in the BEME Collaboration we need to publish guidelines that interpret how the findings of a BEME systematic review can be applied in practice.

The AMEE 2013 Conference was preceded by the 2nd International Conference on Faculty Development in the Healthcare Professions. As highlighted in the opening introduction to the meeting it was interesting to note the number of authors attached to each submission. In one case the list of 11 co-authors and their attachments took up almost as much space as the abstract for the paper. As with the AMEE Conference, the 2nd International Conference on Faculty Development in the Healthcare Professions appeared to be a success. The next one will be in two years’ time attached to APMEC in Singapore.

While I have a number of engagements later this month I am looking forward to participating early October in the International Conference in Medical Education (ICME) in Mauritius. This looks like a great programme in a great venue.