It’s a small world after all: Reflections from a medical conference

Being a Disney fanatic, the phrase “It’s a small world after all” has layers of meaning for me. It was on this ride at Disneyland when I was four years old that my prized Raggedy Ann doll fell overboard. She then reappeared (shockingly much newer looking) a couple days later after a dramatic rescue at sea.

I rode the same ride as an adult. The track broke down and my husband and I were stuck for what seemed like hours with that familiar melody playing over and over. And it’s those words that resonate so piercingly for me when I think about my career in academic medicine.

I recently attended the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Annual Meeting, one of the biggest meetings for academic physicians whose focus is medical education. I always look forward to learning new concepts even as I simultaneously reaffirm and recalibrate my vision for medical education here at Baylor College of Medicine. However, I must confess that I most looked forward to the coffees, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and drinks that I would share with old colleagues, now treasured friends.

Dr. Jennifer Christner (right) with colleagues at the AAMC Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass.

The fortuitous opportunities to forge new relationships are also exciting. There is a degree of connectedness among us in medical education –a seven degrees of separation that is comforting but also merits pointing out with a word to the wise to younger colleagues, trainees and students: Someone who knows you will indeed know someone else and that individual  will someday be in a position to speak to your competence, your collegiality and your professionalism. I guarantee it.

I also mention to mentees that my best work has always been the result of a collaboration among colleagues. If one really wants to get a project off the ground, the wisdom of the many always makes for a better study.

Moreover, if you want that project published, ensure that you have colleagues outside of your institution involved. You will not want to disappoint them by not meeting a paper draft due date. Workshops and panel presentations are richer when a diverse group is presenting. Your seemingly small world at one institution becomes infinite and can provide a great source of motivation and productivity.

I returned home from the conference with pages of notes to contemplate with colleagues on what we should try to implement. I reflect on how associates I have worked with from three different institutions are now also old friends through this annual get-together.

I also made a new acquaintance and we are going to partner on a project we are both passionate about. Ultimately, my colleagues from across the country provide a space to share ideas, to talk through common problems and to be sounding boards for each other. I am continually amazed and grateful for our connectedness and how their passion for medical education inspires me.

During the last plenary session of the meeting, a former medical student of mine from another institution was one of the keynote speakers. His relatives are physicians here at Baylor. It’s a small world after all.

-By Dr. Jennifer Christner, dean of the School of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

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