When I was little in India, I had a relative who was a dentist and used to fly around the world to medical meetings. It seemed like the most glamourous thing to do.

But as a grown-up, glamour is the last word I would attach to medical conferences attended by doctors. Other words I would also not use are cool, creative or innovative.

I look on enviously at the internet/media conferences that my husband attends (where Alicia Keys has sung a set at the closing ceremony) and at the colour-themed and styled conferences of my arty Instagram friends. Where attention is payed to design, stage sets, food and entertainment as well as the factual information that is being presented.

Over the past 5 days, about 22,000 lung doctors from all over the world descended upon Munich for the yearly European Respiratory Society (ERS) meeting. The huge numbers meant it pretty much had to be held at the Munich fair. As far as fairs go, the one in Munich is airy, well-lit and being Munich, even has a designated area for a beer garden. And with the sudden unexpected bursts of sunshine after a dreary summer, this piece of green space was a treasure.

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The congress in Munich as a whole was a betterment in many ways compared to the last few years. The usual inelegant, plastic congress bag with gaudy lettering – which you could normally not even reuse as a child’s gym bag for fear of complete social exclusion and eternal bullying of said child – was pleasantly upgraded. The jute bag has arrived at the ERS. While it doesn’t get 10 out of 10 for style, it equally doesn’t have to be deposited at the neared Gift Box or charity shop asap.

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And the usual 100 unwanted flyers advertising the evening drug-company sponsored symposiums did not make their way into the newly spruced up congress bag, but retained their place soley on the congress app. The contents of the bag were thus one fat congress programme (for detailed reading additional to the app) and one block of writing paper. So far so good. Although a pen and a little bag of sweets would have been ok too.

The app was user-friendly and useful. I’ve blogged about the lack of doctors on Twitter before. The app this year surprising had an in-built Twitter stream. Progress! Except it was a Twitter stream purely to display the tweets of the organising committee. Last year, the hash tag #ERS2013 was thin on the ground. This year Twitter took off – but mostly lead by the pharmaceutical companies.


22,000 doctors in one exciting congress and a maximum peak of 1874 tweets in one day according to the stats provided by Symplur. Took off is relative.

The top tweeters, were a Columbian, 2 Dutch, one Turkish and a couple of Brits, alongside the organisers and the drug companies. No Germans in sight.

Thanks all in all for a great congress ERS. Yes, we are here to come together, to share research and to learn, but next time take on a media expert and a graphic designer onto your organising committee.  I hope one day for sessions chaired not predominantly by men, more interaction, just a little bit of style, a bit of live music perhaps and less of a stiffened atmosphere.