I have been attending surgical conferences since the late 1990s. Early in my career, I would attend them with the sole intention of learning from leaders and pioneers in my field. For me, a three-day event would be crammed with attending early morning to late evening lectures and seminars, often juggling talks happening simultaneously at different parts of the venue, and cramming notebooks full of information gleaned from slide-tape projectors (which were more common than PowerPoint slides!). This kind of information would not be available elsewhere, and it would take years before textbooks incorporated these latest advances in the field.
Later in my career, I started presenting my work at conferences. The picture above is an image of me presenting a paper in 2010 at the National Conference of the Indian Association Of Surgical Oncology (NATCON 2010) held in Mumbai. I am barely seen on the left edge of the picture, but I am also projected onto the screen seen in the right one-third of the picture!
Over the years, information became available at the click of a button and later still on the phone in the palm of the hand. Going to a conference was no longer about gaining information that was so easily available online.
But the value of attending conferences did not diminish. Gaining knowledge is quite different from digesting information alone. There is no substitute for interpersonal interaction, sharing views with the best in the field, and discussing subtler points of surgical technique or disease evaluation. Also, the effort that I have to put in during the preparation of my own talks or panel discussions makes me better updated even in my own areas of expertise.
A conference is also a tremendous opportunity to network with other experts and contemporaries, enabling us to utilize connections to mutually provide our patients with the best of expert care available across the country or even abroad. Networking has also helped me place many of my students and younger colleagues at renowned cancer centers across the world for training or even to further their careers.
Lastly, I have learned never to underestimate the value of simple human connections. And a conference is a perfect place to form new friendships and strengthen old ones.
The picture below is from the same conference as in the above picture (National Conference of the Indian Association Of Surgical Oncology), but in 2022, 12 years later, which just concluded last week. In the center is Dr. M Ramesh, senior surgical oncologist and the organizing secretary of NATCON 2022. To his right is Dr. Rakesh, my former colleague at the department of surgical oncology, St. John’s Medical College.