After a warm week of unusually warm weather in Chicago, a cool front descended on the city this weekend and in many ways, seemed to descend on the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions this year as well.
The mood seemed almost somber on Day 1. Perhaps it was the lack of Chicagoans attending the meeting because it was the start of Spring Break for many of the local schools in the area. Perhaps it was the lack of signage outside McCormick place as I drove up to the conference center from Lake Shore Drive (I had a brief moment of concern: "Are they holding the meeting somewhere else?") Strange. Or perhaps it was long walk from the parking lot to the conference center with dark, dank halls where your footsteps echoed off the barren walls and were the only ones heard. And finally, after reaching the registration area, the loss of the festive, colorful ads that used to adorn the skyway over Lakeshore Drive as we walked from the registration area to the main conference area. There were fewer doctors, fewer huddles where people used to welcome each other, fewer smiles. Even the expo hall where the vendors waited in earnest on their plush pile carpet to corner their unwary prey, there seemed to be too many of them and too few of us.
Things are changing at these big Scientific Meetings for doctors now. They used to be fun to attend: now you can see the collective sighs as you spoke with other doctors: the meetings have become more obligatory than anticipated for many. Get your CME's, pay the freight, and head home. Even a fellow from Wayne State's program cornered me at a post-conference event: "What's happening to us? Aren't doctors supposed to be important? I needed a pen, so I asked a vendor if I could have one of theirs that was displayed on their counter. They agreed, but not before scanning my name badge. Depressing."
Perhaps it's the internet, too. People wait online to see the news reports and news coverage. Happy doctors in pretty outfits get videoed and politely displayed online, ever eager to spew forth their opinions about the latest study. No shouting, please, that would be unpleasant. Smile! Then "5, 4, 3...." "That's a take!"
But this is not a reality show. It's real life. It's expensive. It's time-consuming. It's supposed to be a time to meet colleagues and friends and re-charge doctors engines before descending back into the mosh pit of patient care. It unsettling to see these changes compared to an earlier time.
But doctors understand that things are changing. We get that things should change. But it is discouraging to see the blatant focus on us as the bad guy in all that ailes our health care system. We are tracked with RFID tags, monitored for our use of twelve-cent pens, and for the new generation of doctors coming forward, wondering if there will even be a job waiting for us after all their exorbitantly expensive education. (Consolidation and contraction is already upon us in health care).
It's ironic: despite the real need for more doctors to enter health care as a profession, after my first day at the ACC meeting in Chicago, it seems we're doing everything possible to discourage our best and brightest from taking part in what was once considered our noble profession.