16 Mar 2018

Attending non-library conferences

Guest post by Caroline Rowan.

As librarians, we attend seminars and conferences for a variety of reasons - for CPD, for networking, to learn about new technologies, to compare our activities against our peers and to be inspired with new  ideas.

While I am a regular attendee at LIS conferences and workshops, 2018 has been my first year to attend a non-library conference as a librarian. The Irish Network of Medical Educators held their annual conference in University College Cork from 07-09 February. The theme of the INMED conference was clinical supervision, but because it was about medical education, much of the content was directly relatable to what we do in librarianship. In fact, Professor Peter Cantillon (NUI, Galway), Chair of INMED, specifically noted that INMED is a meeting for people with “teacher identities”, which resonated with me particularly given that teaching is part and parcel of a health librarians role.

I’ll just touch on a few of the sessions to give you a flavour of the conference, (you can see the full list of speakers and content here.) but hopefully it will demonstrate to you that there is plenty on offer outside of our own particular field, which can still be directly relevant to our work.

Dr. Dorene Balmer, from The Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, spoke about the concept of entrustment, which was defined as “reliance of a supervisor on a trainee to execute a given professional task correctly, and on the trainee’s willingness to ask for help when needed”. Of course this doesn’t always work and can result in a matrix of possible engagements. Do we as teachers recognise when our students are capable of taking on tasks either with supervision or completely independently? Correspondingly, do our students recognise when they do not have the skills to deal with a situation, and the self-awareness to ask for help? Furthermore, do we reflectively evaluate our own teaching practices to see whether we in fact are operating to the ideal?

The next speaker was Prof. Pim Teunissen from Maastricht University, speaking about the issue of focusing on assessable outcomes and what can be measured. He argued that this obscures the value of the actual experience of learning and the development of unquantifiable skills. An educational assessment needs to combine assessment with an awareness of how people learn from work. Setting milestones isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, the be-all and end-all of a learning programme.

When it was time for the parallel workshops, I opted for the session titled “Interprofessional Education and Technology Enhanced Learning”. I was interested in seeing what kind of software and technology was being used in healthcare teaching. I found, however, that most of the talks focused on the interprofessional (AKA multi-disciplinary) teams, and there was less focus on new technologies than I would have expected from the title.

However, the presentations on team interactions and evaluations gave plenty of food for thought as well as some useful ideas for potential projects. One such project was the development of scenario-based learning videos to help supervisors give feedback to trainees. It’s an idea which could transition well to to any discipline, as could the feedback from another presentation that users preferred small-group learning to online learning.

In the afternoon, I attended a presentation on the SafeMed programme for stress management and building resilience, which has been made mandatory for 1st year medical students in UCC. Dr. Margaret O’Rourke, clinical psychologist, spoke at length about burnout, the frog-in-boiling water concept and the need for self-care, as well as the ability to say “No” when we do not have capacity to take on new work. This is something that many librarians could benefit from particularly where staffing numbers have been significantly reduced or where working as a solo practitioner.

On day two of the conference, I attended Professor Peter Cantillon’s “Getting Published” workshop. There were individual exercises, group discussions and then a shared learning piece as well as recommendations for those who want to publish. It was validating to note that healthcare professionals experience exactly the same challenges and concerns as librarians when publishing - motivation, self-confidence, selecting the appropriate journal, working with co-authors, establishing peer support, finding funding, dealing with rejection, and promoting your research among your peers all got a mention. I came away feeling inspired and motivated to make time for my academic writing, regardless of workload, and to commit to turning my various drafts into publishable documents.

After the workshop there was a talk on bullying in the healthcare system and particularly in relation to medical trainees. There were some horrific, but not surprising, statistics given for the rates of bullying and its impact on staff, as well as recognition that bullying impacts not just the direct victim, but also those who witness bullying.

After that we had two hot topic sessions: one on realist reviews and the other on a new feedback app developed by the College of Anaesthetists in Ireland. You can watch the video about the feedback app here. It might generate a few ideas for your own teaching and learning feedback, particularly those of you who are interested in app development.

The INMED conference may be aimed at clinical educators but there was plenty to be learned as a non-clinical attendee, even with the focus on clinical supervision. I would be very interested to see more librarians attending conferences like this. There is significant value in reaching outside of our library bubbles and evaluating our teaching and learning strategies against those of other professions. Attending non-library conferences is also an opportunity for librarians to build visibility of our profession and an understanding of what we can contribute within the academic environment.


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