Hectic days and detailed agendas

How to make the most of the ESCRS Congress

Sorcha Ni Dhubhghaill

Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2019

I HAVE been going to the ESCRS meetings every year for a while now. My very first year was a special one, Milan 2012, and while it was an overall excellent conference, it was also the year that I won the John Henahan prize. That will always be a standout memory for me, a total honour and surprise, but the rest of the conference was great too.

Six of us booked out a tiny Airbnb that had been advertised as a cavernous duplex in the Milanese suburbs, only to find out that it was at best a glorified studio apartment in the middle of nowhere, with very few doors. While we were packed in like sardines, we were all good friends from Ireland and it made for a memorable time.

While that will always be a standout, every year has been very different and rewarding its own way. As a trainee, I tried to book the wetlabs well in advance. I learned that they sell out early and sneaking in is frowned upon. Any time not spent in a wetlab was spent over in the Young Ophthalmologist (YO) sessions. Easy.

Planning became a little trickier in my fellowship years when I needed to draw up a detailed agenda. I wanted to see specific speakers to troubleshoot my problems in cataract surgery and I wanted to see as many tips and tricks to mend complications as possible. Those were hectic days flying from talk, to video session to talk again. The conference app was a constant companion.

I was also keenly aware early that I wanted to pursue further training in Belgium so I made sure to sit front row for eminent Belgian speakers in the hopes they would have some free time to give fellowship advice after their talks, if I asked politely. This was not in vain, because it was as a direct result of the ESCRS and the John Henahan prize, that I was given an interview in Antwerp University Hospital, under the eminent Professor Marie-José Tassignon. ESCRS opened the door but I still had to work hard to cross the threshold.

Now that I am well settled, I plan my conferences a bit differently. I scan the programme for the new and the next techniques. ESCRS is often used as a showcase for new implants and devices and the companies will often send both their sales teams and their scientific teams to the event to engage with the surgeons.

For the past few years I have finally planned some free time, between the sessions, to sip a coffee and peruse the industry hall. I enjoy putting the reps through their paces, letting them try to convince me, whilst also sipping their free espressos. In the best cases I get my caffeine and they have a new client.

These coffee moments have also become great chances to catch up with my previous colleagues, fellows and students and share advice and laughter. They are also very functional and great for meeting with collaborators and planning the next group grants and projects.

So whatever stage of your career, remember that while you are working and learning at the ESCRS conference, treat yourself to a break and a coffee. You can also have a cookie too if you have been very good.

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