My Experience at Stanford Medicine X [2016]

Written for the Albany Medical College Alumni Association Bulletin [2016]

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Five months ago, I unexpectedly received an email with the subject line, “Invitation to speak at Stanford University Sept 23, 2015.” Instantly, my stomach welled with the pangs of anxious nausea. As I quickly scanned through the email, three words caught my eye: “main stage talk.”

I did a double-take back to the subject of the email. It was addressed to me.

A fresh wave of nausea washed over me.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve never been more excited to receive a conference invitation. It’s been a dream of mine to speak on the main stage at Stanford Medicine X. Med X is the foremost medical innovation conference of our generation, a meeting of the greatest minds in health care to plan the disruption of patient care, health technology and physician education.

It’s the Academy Awards, the Grammys of medicine — everyone who is anyone in medical innovation goes to MedX, decked in their finest clinic clothes and carrying their Twitter-enabled devices of choice. For budding physicians like myself, being present in their company is an experience of awe, and engaging in their discussions the premier intellectual exercise for our ventures, a singular opportunity to probe their collective intelligence and get real-world feedback on our projects.

This year, Stanford Med X was trying something new: a 2-day pre-conference entitled Medicine X | Ed dedicated entirely to innovation within medical education. In the internet-enabled era of medicine, medical schools across the country are developing new ways to educate their students, transforming standard lectures of brute-force memorization to interactive didactic sessions that teach budding physicians how to critically analyze the literature and make evidence-based decisions for their patients. Med X | Ed was to be a gathering of the greatest minds in medical education to create new ways to teach and learn.

And I was going to be there, up on that lighted stage with the futuristic white couch and cameras pointing from all directions, in the company of hundreds who, like me, were passionate about the future of academic medicine.. If there was ever an opportunity to communicate my message and impress all those celebrities of medicine, this was it.

You can understand my nauseous apprehension.

I showed up at 6am the day of the conference, a full hour before registration began, anxious to get a look at the main stage and practice my speech a few hundred times before my talk later that day.

Dr. Larry Chu, the mastermind of Stanford Medicine X, was already hard at work in the early morning light, flitting around the Li Ka Shing Learning and Knowledge Center on the Stanford campus, making sure everything was ready for the onslaught of medical educators, students and patients that were soon to arrive.

I pulled out my laptop and opened up Twitter, penning the first of hundreds of tweets that I would post over that day. Stanford Med X is one of the few medical conferences in which live-tweeting, the practice of tweeting the day’s events as they happen and interacting with other conference attendees in real-time, is not only endorsed, but actively encouraged. Live-tweeting is one of my favorite activities as a conference — not only does it enable you to keep a virtual notebook of the lessons you learn throughout the day, it also allows you to share those lessons with others and participate in a meta conversation about the conference with people around the world. Later that day, the #MedX hashtag would start trending on Twitter, with over 1,200 participants (I was number 4!)

Tweeting is also instrumental to networking at conferences like Med X. Although the question “Don’t I know you from Twitter?” may seem a social faux pas, this isn’t the case at Med X. Our name badges prominently feature our Twitter handles, just in case our profile photos don’t reflect our real appearances — a foot-in-mouth question we do want to avoid.

As I sat in the foyer, I began to recognize the faces at the registration table. “Holy cow, that’s @amcunningham! And is that @doctor_v? I just tweeted with him last week. And there’s @ShivGaglani from the last AAMC conference I was at.”

Really, all we needed is a red carpet. The celebrities had arrived.

Dr. Alex Djuricich (who I know better as @MedPedsDoctor, a medicine-pediatrics faculty attending at Indiana University School of Medicine) sat next to me in the foyer. He shook my hand, recognizing me from Twitter, and asked about my residency search, all the while I could only think to myself, “I can’t believe this is actually happening.” When the doors opened, he invited me to sit at his table, with some of his faculty colleagues. I would compare this to the tired trope of being invited to sit at the seniors table in high school, but it just doesn’t do the feeling justice.

As the talks began on the unmet needs of medical learners and new virtual classrooms for medical students, the tweets began flowing, spilling out from the countless open laptops and tablets around the hall. I got into a small virtual scuffle with a Twitter user who was following the conference from the UK about the role of the medical student voice in education reform — the topic of my upcoming talk and a personal passion of mine.

When you tweet as often as I do, you not only recognize faces, but you also build relationships, making friends and new colleagues that you would never have met before the era of instantaneous communication.

Take @AmolUtrankar, a second-year medical student at Vanderbilt. I met him last year through my publication in-Training when he was a pre-medical student, passionate about the use of innovative technology in health care and medical education. After bringing him onto the publication as a social media manager and a podcast producer, I was privileged to watch him mature into a medical student leader of his own right, all over email, Twitter, and his phenomenal blog.

Despite having worked with him as colleagues, I met him for the first time in person at Med X, on a coffee break between talks. It is a rare conference that facilitates these virtual-turned-real connections — this is why Stanford Medicine X was designed.

Finally, it was time for lunch, which could only mean one thing: my talk was next on the agenda. I guzzled another cup of coffee, ate the few bites of food that my stomach could manage, and headed backstage to the green room. I was greeted by a flurry of activity, as I was whisked into a chair and a very excitable stage manager began taping a microphone to my cheek.

What follows is, in my mind, a blur. The other presenters gave their talks while I watched on the backstage screen, pacing from corner to corner of the tightly enclosed space and going over the details of my talk. When it was my turn, I heard the booming voice of the announcer say my name and school, and I walked onstage, greeted by the bright stage lights and the watchful eyes of a sea of people.

“Here goes!” was my last thought as I reached my spot on center stage and began.