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.

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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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