SMACC Sydney 2019: A Student Volunteer Experience

Lucas Oliveira J. e Silva Medical student at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil. President of International Student Association of Emergency Medicine (ISAEM)
Lucas Oliveira J. e Silva: Medical student at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil. President of International Student Association of Emergency Medicine (ISAEM)

I will never forget the first time I have heard about the concept of Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAMed). I was leading the organization of an Emergency Medicine (EM) student symposium in my city (Porto Alegre), and we decided to invite a student named Henrique Puls to give a lecture about his organization, the International Student Association of Emergency Medicine (ISAEM). 

At that point, he was an enthusiast about Emergency Medicine already, and he was the vice-president of ISAEM. He gave an excellent talk about ISAEM, but, most importantly, he introduced me to a “drug” that I would become addicted: the #FOAMed. After that lecture, we ended up becoming good friends and we started to work together. Our work has resulted in so many things that would never fit within this post. Throughout the time, one of the seeds that he has planted on me would blossom in the year 2019.

When I was introduced to the #FOAMed world, Henrique told me about a conference called SMACC – Social Media and Critical Care Conference. At that moment in my life, this conference didn’t make any sense to me: critical care experts giving TED-like talks and doing crazy simulations on stage. My thoughts were: Does this really exist? I kept watching SMACC lectures on YouTube, and year after year my interest would grow more and more. Then, Henrique and Daniel Schubert (another friend, current EM resident in Rio de Janeiro) were pioneers (as always) and participated as SMACC Junior volunteers in Berlin 2017. Every tweet and every post from them throughout the conference inspired me even more.

When SMACC organizers released that 2019 would be in Australia and it would be the last conference ever, I could not miss this opportunity. It would be my last chance to go. The application process was quite different and required a lot of creativity. I thought I would never pass. The email saying that I have been selected for the SMACC volunteer team made my heart start pounding really fast. 

Besides that, I have applied together with my girlfriend (Marianna Fischmann) and we ended up both being accepted. We would go to Sydney and we would be part of the SMACC Junior volunteer team.

The SMACC Junior team is made up of a committed and enthusiastic group of 25 medical/paramedic/nursing students who volunteer at the conference. SMACC 2019 was held in Sydney (Australia) from March 25 to March 29. We arrived in Sydney on March 23 (Saturday) after a very long journey: 36-hour travel, including airport and flight times. On Sunday, we had our first SMACC Junior meeting. At that point, I could feel the energy of the group. Students from eleven countries with totally different backgrounds, except for one similar interest: LEARN. 

First SMACC Junior meeting at the ICC Sydney Convention Center.

But what were the specific tasks we were supposed to do throughout the conference? What does a SMACC Junior volunteer mean?

Well, we were there to help on pretty much everything related to keeping the conference organized.

  1. Here a few of our specific tasks:
  2. Help with the registration of all attendees;
  3. Usher people throughout the conference to make sure they would be at the right place at the right time;
  4. Workshop support (eg. Manikin, time management, etc.);
  5. Help with backstage and on-stage activities;
  6. Represent the youth and inspired community of SMACC.
SMACC Junior material. We were supposed to be in blue T-shirts all the time, except when we were on Backstage (black T-shirts).

One small detail: we were supposed to be at the Convention Center every day at 06:00 AM and to leave it around 06:00 PM.

On Monday, the SMACC workshops started. As I am an Evidence-Based Medicine enthusiast and young researcher, I was allocated to the workshop called “Research Dark Arts.” It was focused on discussing the nuances and challenges behind the academic world. The faculty was mostly from the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Society (ANZICS) and included researchers like Paul Young, Steve Webb and John Myburgh. It was an amazing opportunity to somehow help these incredible researchers in their workshop. Besides that, I learned so much from them.

On Tuesday, I was allocated to one of the workshops I have always dreamt about: the SMACC Airway workshop. Emergency airway management has always been one of my main interests within the EM world. It was incredible to learn about the different techniques behind mastering the airway with people like Scott Weingart

Me and Scott Weingart after the SMACC Airway Workshop.

After a great day on Tuesday, we were rewarded with a dinner with all faculty members involved with the SMACC Workshops. The event was in a beachfront restaurant at the Cougee Beach. Besides the beauty of this place, this was a great opportunity for networking with people from all over the world.

Me and Marianna in the beachfront restaurant at Cougee Beach.

In the same evening, there was a party called GELFEST. This is a crazy party created by SMACC attendees. Medical education enthusiasts brought a lot of simulation entertainment to the party. The classic part is the famous SALAD simulator, created by James DuCanto. People were practicing his technique (Suction Assisted Laryngoscopy for Airway Decontamination) while drinking their Australian beer.

Marianna practicing SALAD with James DuCanto at the GELFEST party.

After two very intense days, the conference started on Wednesday morning. The anxiety was high because the volunteer group was responsible for registering almost 3000 people. We were very motivated and I think this was the reason why everything went so well.

SMACC Junior team ready to register the attendees.

It’s hard to write about the SMACC open ceremony. There is nothing similar to what happened. It’s even harder to believe that a medical conference could have done something like that. It’s also important to remember those who are reading my report that SMACC has a philosophy: there is only ONE THEATER for the main conference, and all the lectures and discussions happen there. There is no such thing as several rooms with several lectures happening at the same time. SMACC is not a classic conference.

SMACC Sydney Opening Ceremony

After a breathtaking open ceremony, the conference started. As volunteers, we had several tasks throughout the conference days, but almost always we were able to watch pretty much all the lectures. We just had to be aware of following our SMACC Junior Schedule. For example, I had to be at the SMACC Genius Bar during coffee breaks and lunchtime. SMACC Genius Bar was a booth to help attendees on getting into the #FOAMed world (e.g., Creating a Twitter account, etc.). Alyx, Claire and Xander were amazing SMACC Junior leaders, and they did a great job on keeping everyone on track.

Playing with simulation during the conference intervals.

Whenever there was free time, we often went to the simulation booths at the exhibition hall. Me and Floris (medical student from Belgium) had the chance of intubating a manikin inside a simulated crashed car. Quite fun.

On Thursday night, there was the SMACC Gala Party. And do you have any idea where that was? Inside one of the most famous amusement park in the world: Luna Park. Yes, the party was at Luna Park! Unbelievable. It was awesome — dancing, drinks and networking. Unique experience.

And here we go into the last day. On Friday, I had the opportunity of participating in one of the lectures on-stage. Ken Milne, the creator of the Canadian blog The Skeptics Guide to Emergency Medicine, asked for the SMACC Junior volunteers to cheer him up during his debate with Salim (REBEL-EM Blog) about several controversial EM topics. We suited up like Canadians and we had so much fun.

The SMACC Junior Team is cheering up on stage

Unfortunately, everything good comes to an end. But wait, was it really the last SMACC ever? Yes, it was. However, the SMACC leadership, Roger Harris and Oli Flower, had a surprise for the attendees at the end. They announced that the SMACC community would not come to an end, but it would start another journey, with another name and with a more ambitious plan. The name is CODA. They put together three giants of Medicine to create a forum geared toward tackling the main health issues around the world. These three are: SMACC community, New England Journal of Medicine and The George Institute.

Please check what the CODA is about: https://CODAchange.org

After this incredible journey, Marianna and I could explore the wonderful city of Sydney. It’s probably the most amazing city I have ever been to.

Surfing at Manly Beach after the end of the conference

I can’t deny, however, that I am little biased. Going to Sydney and having the chance of living every single moment throughout SMACC have changed my life. The people, the conversations, the lectures, every small piece of SMACC changed something on me. I am sure that this experience was life-changing for many people who attended it. We all left Australia with one common feeling: we are excited to be better versions of ourselves and, consequently, provide better care for our patients.

If I had to summarize what SMACC was, I would say four words: Emotion – Inspirational – Empathy – Humanity

Thank you SMACC for this incredible opportunity.

Oli Flower, Roger Harris and the whole SMACC Junior Team