Lecturing to the back row

I received a flyer today about a meeting in London, 'Latest thinking!' trumpeted the headline, 'Top Specialists!' and then, inexplicably: 'Opportunities for Net-working!' What would be next: 'Let's do lunch?'

When I was a lad, things were a lot simpler: postgraduate education for example. A drug company would organise a meeting and we would go along for the free food and drink and happily nod off during the lecture. Lectures were invariably given by consultants, who considered us idiots and lower down the food chain than maggots, and the content was totally impractical and unrealistic as well as unabashedly promotional.

If the drug company was impecunious, we sometimes had the unpleasant experience of being patronised by a registrar, but occasionally a real star would appear in our grubby firmament; a professor, or even better an 'Emeritus' professor (I still don't know what 'Emeritus' actually means; on the basis of the lectures.

I attended it probably translates as 'boring old fart' or 'can't get a proper job,' or 'every other consultant in the hospital is a real professor and they made me one so as not to hurt my feelings').

The consultants talked down to us, the drugs reps shamelessly manipulated us, but at least we knew where we stood.

Now it's all different and confusing. I go to a lecture and find other GPs (yes, other GPs) up on the podium, giving the by now mandatory Powerpoint presentation. Although we know that the speaker is just the 'token' GP we still find it offensive and unsettling. 'Who do they think they are?' we mutter to each other, 'They're no better than the rest of us, when does the free bar open?'

Even worse, the meetings are now participative and interactive, so we can't have a nap in the back row. At one, the upstart of a lecturer had the nerve to go walkabout, interrogating the audience with easy confidence about the content, and eventually coming round to me.

'What is the importance of the glomerular filtration rate?' he asked me, flashing a condescending smile, like a cheap daytime TV talk show host.

But I'd seen him coming, knowing him for the cheeky pup he was, and had my answer well prepared and my cronies well primed.

'Look, buddy,' I said, 'You're the one being paid to answer questions, not me. If you really don't know,' I continued, as my cronies sniggered gratifyingly in the background, 'look it up on Wikipedia.'

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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