The World Extreme Medicine Conference has it all. It boasts an impressive array of speakers, a schedule packed full of talks to inspire, and diverse workshops that’ll equip you with new skills. It’s sure to appeal to anybody with an interest in practising adventurous medicine, be that expedition work, humanitarian medicine, military or disaster relief. Here’s our review of the 2021 event.
Adventure Medic’s invite
At Adventure Medic we are always thrilled to read, hear, or discuss all things adventurous. As an online magazine, we strive to represent the breadth of opportunities available, covering humanitarian, global health, and expedition work alongside tales of travel and local escapades. We act as a resource for interested healthcare professionals to share their articles and top up their knowledge. As a community, we advocate for alternative opportunities outside of the hospital setting, and the benefits these offer to both the professional and their employer. The WEM conference showcases all this and more, providing inspiring talks from adventurous individuals and organisations, and the opportunity to network with fascinating experts in their field. We were delighted to be invited to cover the event on WEM’s 10th anniversary.
Theme and structure
The theme for this year’s event, “A New World Awaits” is representative of WEM’s ambition to deliver a diverse conference encompassing everything from space medicine to climate change. With this breadth, WEM has departed from previous efforts to categorise days into topics. This suits the attendee who can expect to be overwhelmed by the inspiring and influential speakers on offer regardless of the day!
A range of tickets and prices are offered to suit different professions, availabilities (single day or whole conference options) and locations. Particular attention had been paid to delivering a virtual experience without loss of networking and interaction. Read on to hear virtual attendee Jade’s review of the digital conference experience.
For those attending in person, Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth offers an impressive venue at the foothills of Arthur’s seat. Scenic runs, sea swims and the city itself make for an incredible weekend. Attendees breezed through registration and straight into refreshments where the buzz of excited chatter filled the auditorium. In a venue packed with adventurous medics, explorers and outdoor enthusiasts, it was inevitable that collaborations and friendships were being struck up in all directions.
In addition to the full timetable of speakers, delegates have the opportunity to explore opportunities and connect with exhibitors. Organisations included Mountain Rescue England & Wales, Raleigh International, The Faculty of Conflict & Catastrophe Medicine, and the Royal Navy to name just a few. At the Adventure Medic stand we thoroughly enjoyed meeting you all to hear about your dilemmas, career challenges, interests and adventures across the globe. We look forward to exploring these further and providing articles that answer your queries.
With such a diverse and impressive line-up there’s a number to choose from. Jeremy Windsor captured the room with his “Deaths on Everest”, whilst James Bloor-Griffiths educated us about Africa’s dangerous flora and fauna. Meanwhile, Erin Kilborn shared her dedicated work with MSF in Gaza; stepping us through her experiences with the burns unit. We also found ourselves dwelling on two speakers from the main stage. Firstly, Hugh Montgomery offered his facts on climate change and how this is the greatest health crisis of our time. It was simultaneously terrifying and a powerful call to action. When we felt there could be no follow up act, astronaut Mike Barratt arrived on screen to introduce environmentalist and ethologist Jane Goodall in a heartwarming interaction. Jane captivated the audience with stories of her life, work and positivity. “Each person makes an impact and you can choose the impact you make”, she advised before bidding farewell to us all in chimpanzee. On Monday, Roger Alcock discussed his work with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The weekend offered many valuable take-home messages, but Roger’s suggestions to “leave your ego at the door”, and “go in with the attitude you’re going to learn more than you’re going to teach” were particularly memorable.
Alongside the variety of talks, delegates had the opportunity to attend numerous workshops, including careers panels, facial trauma workshops, and Burjor Langdana’s engaging and dynamic emergency dentistry workshop. Meanwhile, those attending the ropes workshop were treated to an unrivalled view of the main stage as they abseiled down past the biosphere windows.
For those in town, the Caves provided an excellent venue to enjoy this year’s infamous ceilidh. Live music, dancing, and further opportunity to meet like-minded adventurers over a drink or two.
World Extreme Medicine Conference 2021 – The digital experience
Jade Hanley / Medical Student / Nottingham
What a weekend. At 8am on Saturday 13th Nov, I quickly brewed some coffee as I prepared to join the 10th World Extreme Medicine conference, ‘A New World Awaits’. Famous for bringing together some of the biggest and baddest names in extreme medicine, the WEM conference is a totemic event in the calendar of anybody with an interest in the industry. The line-up of speakers spanned pioneers in space medicine, polar explorers, humanitarian response teams and jungle experts. In short, for a gal with expedition medicine ambitions, this felt like Christmas. Tinged with a hint of the trepidation of meeting your heroes.
As delegates made their way into Dynamic Earth venue in Edinburgh, I loaded up my computer and got comfortable at my desk. For the first time, the conference was open to both in-person and online attendees. I had opted for the digital conference ticket for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as a medical student, I am not exactly flush with cash so the significant saving on the ticket itself, as well as the savings made on transport and accommodation in Edinburgh appealed. Also, I often have very little notice about where I need to be for my clinical placements and so couldn’t be sure that I’d be able to attend on the third day of the conference, being a Monday. At least if I went for the digital option, I could log on at lunch!
I booked my digital ticket with some hesitation, worried that the experience might be limited by technical difficulties, reduced networking opportunities and fewer available sessions but I am happy to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The digital platform was fantastic. A purpose-built WEM app allowed attendees to build their own itinerary from the range of sessions available and to navigate easily between sessions, providing a slick and user-friendly experience. The platform held up for all except one session for me and when this glitch did occur, the WEM team were quick to acknowledge this and find a solution. During sessions, digital attendees were able to see both the presenter and their slides and to join in live with Q&As via the chat function.
With the digital platform providing such a smooth experience, I was free to think about connecting with other attendees. The app facilitated networking better than any I’ve experienced before. Attendees were able to create a profile, allowing others to identify potential collaborators in adventure and research. I could ‘connect’ with other attendees via an instant messaging feature and connect I did! My nervousness about networking with so many inspiring medics was soon alleviated by the positive, relaxed responses I received, and I’m delighted to say I’ve made many connections that I’m excited to follow up.
In terms of content, the conference did not disappoint. I attended sessions focused on practical skills for expedition medicine, including Raleigh International’s Katya Alldis on the pre-departure screening of expedition participants and Antarctic veteran Steve Jones’ expert take on expedition safety planning. I also had my eyes opened by courageous and poignant talks by Dr Hamza Al-Kateab, former Director of Al-Qudes hospital in Eastern Aleppo, Syria and MSF’s Dr Erin Kilborn, on working in Gaza during the Great March of Return. I had my (already ambitious) ideas about where I can take medicine stretched by fantastic talks by WEM co-founder Dr Sean Hudson and NASA astronaut and physician Mike Barratt. The only aspect of the event that couldn’t be accessed by digital attendees was, understandably, the host of practical workshops ranging from managing extreme blisters to prepping your vehicle for expeditions. Whilst I longingly scrolled past these sessions on the agenda, there was plenty to fill my schedule and I felt that every effort had been made to bring digital attendees as close to the in-person experience as possible.
In conclusion, whilst I hope that next year I will be able to attend in person, I would recommend the WEM digital conference experience to anyone. The digital experience allows you to enjoy almost all the exceptional content and networking opportunities of the in-person event whilst perhaps better facilitating your budget, access requirements and schedule. Furthermore, given the unpredictable situation we currently face with Covid, knowing that an event of this scale can be pulled off so successfully via a digital platform is great news. The WEM team has clearly invested significantly in their digital platform and the result was an interactive and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Take home thoughts
WEM’s “A New World Awaits” conference delivered a weekend packed full of inspirational speakers, dynamic workshops and plentiful networking opportunities. The virtual element of the conference was excellently delivered, enabling candidates to attend globally without the need to travel. The focus continues to shift towards how we can adventure sustainably, whilst protecting our fragile planet, and we look forward to hearing more about this at WEM’s 2022 conference. Once again, thank you to WEM for inviting us along.
If you weren’t part of the World Extreme Medicine 10th Anniversary Conference but want to catch up on the content, tickets (£149) can now be purchased by contacting the WEM team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.