2012 national conference report

DRS National Conference September 29th, 2012

A small but enthusiastic group gathered at the Great Southern Room of the State Library of Western Australia for the 2012 Doctors Reform Society National Conference, "Advocacy for Change."

Western Australia's Jane Ralls opened the event.

The first speaker, Melissa Sweet, joined us via teleconference to discuss "The Changing Media Landscape". Melissa is a freelance journalist who runs the Croakey blog (@croakeyblog). She revealed that her primary news source is now her Twitter feed, rather than the traditional media.  In turn, she shares her news on Twitter, which allows aggregation and dissemination of content.

She spoke of the new channels of access to Government Ministers and public figures, in a public space, via social media. Large organisations with big budgets, able to buy advertising in traditional media, are no longer dominating the airspace in Canberra, with smaller organisations bringing their messages via social media.

Melissa showed us that anyone can be a citizen journalist by retweeting with their own brief editorial comment. At medical conferences, Twitter is powerful because it shifts the power balance from conference organisers and speakers to audiences. Twitter is a quick, inexpensive and efficient way to engage in public debate. It is breaking down the silos in health care. 

Use of Twitter hashtags allows the growth of communities of interest, such as LifeInTheFastLane.com's #FOAMed - for free open access medical education.

The way for DRS to move forward in a changing media landscape is to engage with new online opportunities. We need to support our digital revolutionaries (@PHAIWA and @jennibeattie for two), get involved (share, follow, engage, make ourselves useful by value-adding when we retweet), do online social media courses (Webicina, London School of Economics and Center for Disease Control are all good places to start) and work those Twitter hashtags.

The message clearly got through, as several members set up Twitter accounts that day, and the DRS Twitter and Facebook accounts have never been more active (@DRSreform, @drs_wa, http://www.facebook.com/DoctorsReformSociety).

The next speaker, Dr Linda Selvey, spoke about "Living in a Changing Climate".  Linda is the Deputy Head of the School of Public Health at Curtin University, a former CEO of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific and was trained by Al Gore as a Climate Change presenter. 

She reminded us all of the physical, health and individual impact of climate change. Health will be impacted through climate change's effects on the social determinants of health and the constant build up of pressures on natural, economic and social systems that sustain health. This will be worse in the developing world. 

Australia is lagging behind other countries in reversing its carbon pollution. As an organisation and as doctors, we can speak up, not let climate change denial go unchallenged, use social and traditional media to spread the word, join Doctors for the Environment (dea.org.au) and tell our leaders it matters. Linda's parting message? Don't give up. This has inspired us all, with climate change activity to be a big focus for DRS over the coming year.

Our final speaker was Dr David Paul, a long-term DRS member who is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia. He spoke of "More than good intent: Changing the health workforce as a key step towards Closing the Gap." He reminded us of the diversity of Australia's Indigenous population and the ongoing disparities in the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations around the world. He challenged us to work to Close the Gap through collaboration, partnership and providing equitable access to acceptable health care with a focus on self-determination.

Three inspiring speakers and delicious vegetarian catering left the conference delegates motivated to update the DRS Policy Statements, in the final session of the day.  Chaired by WA President Alison Creagh and National President Tracy Schrader, vocal and comprehensive debate transpired, leaving the update policy ripe for ratification at the AGM the next day. 

In summary, the 2012 Conference left DRS invigorated and prepared to increase its activity and membership over the coming year.

Elissa Campbell