Liam Farrell: Medical conferences can learn a lot from wildlife documentaries

It must be tough being a penguin; not only are you being constantly harassed by film crews, who love the fact that you can't fly away or strafe them with guano, but Morgan Freeman is always popping up from behind an iceberg and global warming is increasingly degrading your breeding grounds and food supplies.

And my proposal to ease the impact of global warming will make it even tougher; move the polar bears to the Antarctic, where there’ll be plenty of penguins for them to eat (and they can’t fly away).

I do love the BBC wildlife documentaries, but the postscripts which show the lengths they go to film them are equally arresting.

So often it seems that, after months of squatting in sweaty bug-infested squalor, they always seem to get the footage only on the very last day. Perhaps it would be much more efficient and economical if all fieldwork and shoots should be restricted to a single day (in effect, the very last day)

This has medical implications also. I enjoy conferences; being lectured by specialists who know nothing about the realities of general practice is like watching Fox News, it’s always satisfying to have your prejudices confirmed.

But every conference should have a fake last lecture, because the real last lecture is always given by a second-rater and the attendance is always threadbare - the delegates having already signed in for the PGE credits and sneaked off early to catch an early train or have a few beers and a booty call.

As the audience progressively dwindled at one conference I attended, no-one even bothering to tweet, it got more and more embarrassing for those left behind, and ever harder to slip out the back unnoticed; but the momentum was unstoppable, until by the end it was just me and the lecturer in the vast, echoing auditorium (and the janitor, standing impatiently at the sidelines).

‘Any questions?’ asked the lecturer, with rather desperate enthusiasm.

‘Are you nearly finished?’ said the janitor.

‘Did you understand the main point?’ the lecturer directing the question directly to me, obviously anxious for feedback.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Never, ever, get stuck with the last lecture.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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