education

Letter from America

I went to my first American Geriatric Society Conference last week.  I’d been asked if I could speak about the delirium undergraduate education work to one of the specialist interest groups.  It also happened to be taking place in Orlando, specifically, Disney.

Not one to turn down the opportunity to visit the happiest place on earth I was also curious about how my colleagues across the pond approach Geriatric care.

Before going quite a few of my own colleagues asked ‘what exactly is it they do over there?  I mean, the US healthcare system is an ology one.  Do they just pick up people who fall through the cracks?’

I thought this was a little unfair. Even trying to define the role of a Geriatrician to some of our own UK ‘ologists’ is often met with blank looks.

Another question was why was I going ‘all that way for 4 days?  It’s not worth the hassle surely?’

I paused at that.  It’s true, it is a long way. I mean 9 hours on a plane with only movies, music and books to amuse you, no wifi (so no emails), free G&T and food.  Oh and some of the most gorgeous sunsets, sunrises and starry skies you’ll ever see.  Yes, it’s easy to see why some people would choose not to go.

All that aside the concept of travelling thousands of miles is not something I really consider a big deal anymore.  Since my elective in Medical School took me to Canada my view of the world has both simultaneously shrunk and expanded.  I mean how crazy is it that within the space of a day you could be on the other side of the world!

It’s not just travel that’s had this elastic band effect on my world view but social media.  It’s through this that I have had the pleasure of connecting and collaborating with so many amazing people.

This idea of connection and communication was what kept resonating as I attended the conference.

I’d been told American conferences were pretty big and this was no exception.  There was a constant hum of conversation as people moved from room to room.  It was exceptionally well organised – it even had an app! Everything was on it – downloads of abstracts, links to papers, a notes section which you could email yourself and you could even connect with other conference attendees.  Not knowing anyone I relied on good, old fashioned twitter to meet up with colleagues old and new.

The sessions were excellent too! One such presentation was on the healthcare needs of the older incarcerated population, in particular anticipatory care planning.  This is a topic that is rarely spoken about. The presentation demonstrated the gross misinformation and misunderstanding that surrounds this sensitive area.  A lot of it was in the language used and how education will be used to correct this.

It was probably why I then found myself at the session on the use of language (my favourite of the conference). The gist of it was how sometimes we can be quite flippant in our use of language. They spoke about how it’s absorption, both consciously and subconsciously, can lead to negative attitudes and behaviours towards older people.

You would imagine the people in the room would be vigilant to it right? Wrong! It wasn’t until some language was systematically broken down and dissected that we realised we can be guilty of perpetuating it too.  Not on purpose I might add but usually we’re either going so fast or not paying enough attention to realise.

‘Ceiling of care’ anyone?  How about treatment escalation plan as there should never be a ceiling of care…..

The AGS has many special interest groups reflecting the diverse, heterogenous speciality that is Geriatrics.  Happily education featured heavily – all interdisciplinary and all keen to share.

So what did I learn the most?  That we are all connected.  No matter how big the world is, or the conference, we can still find ways to come together to share common goals and aspirations.

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