How COVID-19 has Changed Continuing Medical Education

Yesterday morning, I first gave a 60-min presentation on, “The Science of Obesity”, to colleagues from across Central America. An hour later, I gave a 45-minute key-note talk on, “Managing Obesity as a Chronic Disease in Primary Care”, to over 200 primary care physicians from the UAE and other Gulf countries. Both presentations were given sitting comfortably at home at my computer.

Before COVID, for a presentation like this, I would have had to hop on a plane to Dubai or Panama City, to deliver the talks in person – giving both talks on the same day would have been physically impossible.

As much as I enjoy the opportunity to fly across the globe, even for a day or two, I would dare say that all things considered, my presentations were probably not that much different from being there in person.

In fact, the only real advantage of physically being in Dubai or Panama City, would have been to personally meet my colleagues from the region, as many important conversations take place in the breaks and after the meeting. In the past, this would have been the key to building a network of personal professional relationships with colleagues from around the world.

However, looking back, I wonder if there would be any justification at all to going back to the way things were.

Never mind the ridiculous carbon-footprint of such endeavours, or the time factor, or the health and other risks of travelling across countless time zones – the real question is whether virtual conferences will from now on replace the conventional in-person meeting for medical education (or for that matter conferences in general).

The advantages for organisers, attendees, and speakers are obvious. No travel, no taking days off from work, lower registration costs (if any), attend at your own convenience – most virtual talks are recorded and can be viewed after the event.

So really, the only disadvantage of virtual events, is missing out on the informal networking that happens  around such meetings. Thus, sharing a coffee break with a group of colleagues from another country does much to foster a better of understanding not just of medical issues relevant to obesity management. There is also no doubt that in that past, having the good fortune of creating a personal global network of colleagues, many of who I would consider friends, has been invaluable in my own career as a researcher, teacher, and clinician.

Looking back, I would certainly not have liked to miss the countless opportunities I have had to travel the world as a speaker or visiting professor. Looking forward, it is hard to see how any of this travel will ever come back.

I guess, that’s the “new reality” (a term I much prefer to the “new normal”).

Edmonton, AB