So as some of you know, we won the bid to host the 7th Vasco da Gama (VdGM) Forum in Edinburgh 2021. To recap, VdGM is the young doctors movement for WONCA Europe which is the European network of family doctors.
So I’m going to share with you how we are putting this event together – mishaps and successes – and how you can organise a conference for 300 doctors when the biggest event you have organised yourself is probably your own birthday party. Luckily, I’m working with two gems. Stuart who is our British representative on the VdGM council and Cemal who was my Deputy on the JIC. I literally don’t know what I would do without these two.
Something that I have learnt in this process is that each major city has an organisation that helps co-ordinate conferences. Convention Edinburgh has been a real linch pin in helping us whittle down our choice of venue within our budget and to connect us with local venues, businesses and hotels, all for free. They have been so super helpful and we know that this Forum would not be what it is without their help. This has been even more important because we have vetoed using a primary conference organiser (PCO). For those of you new to the conference world, these are companies that will organise your conference for you for a cut but unfortunately we can’t afford them. Convention Edinburgh introduced us to the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Physicians as potential venues in keeping with the medical theme and even took us round with representatives from the Colleges to make sure that they fit with what we need.
So why did we choose Edinburgh?
The Forum needs to be somewhere that young doctors want to visit. It’s never going to do any harm to see a bit of the city during an educational event! The city attracts the most number of tourists a year after London and is a beautiful city to visit. Not just that but it is steeped in history and culture: from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creating the character of Sherlock to J.K Rowling magicking up Harry Potter; from pioneering the ultrasound to cloning with Dolly the Sheep. It’s easily accessible from many European cities and, thanks to the annual Fringe festival, had a wide variety of accommodation and plenty of it.
From an organisational perspective, we have previous JIC Chair, Dr Robin Ramsay, stationed at Edinburgh medical school and a good representation of current and past JIC members in Glasgow which is only an hour away. And also, I’m not going to lie, I love Scottish culture!! Who doesn’t love a bit of tartan, haggis and whiskey?? Scottish culture is famous worldwide and I have such fond memories of my parents’ friends coming to visit us in the UK and us exploring the Scottish Highlands. I’ve also got wind of the fact that the RCGP has its own tartan and I am currently in the process of trying to procure it as uniform for the Host Organising Committee. My chances are pretty slim to none but it will be my personal mission to get my hands on it over the next 14 months.
Choosing the Host Organising Committee
Everyone on the committee is organising this event in their free time and my main goal as Chair is to get everyone through with minimal long-lasting effects on their mental health. Having spoken to the Italian team and the Polish team who have organised similar events in the last two years, it sounds like it gets very intense in the run-up including daily Skypes. I know that we are lucky because, as part of the JIC, we have organised several events (up to a 100 people) and we’ve learnt from our lessons but I am not a fan of drama and I know that I need to collect a dream team together. It was a conscious decision to have everyone on the steering committee someone that we have a track record of working with – people I trust to come to me if they needed something; good and reliable communicators; pragmatic but with a can-do attitude. Without a conference organiser, we have no back-up and we have no space for errors. Each Lead on the steering committee will have its own sub-committee of honorary volunteers and we are looking to advertise for these roles openly.
So to be clear, the Forum is a VdGM event and therefore complies with VdGM rules i.e. no pharma sponsoring, the focus if cost-effectiveness for the delegate (most of our European colleagues are not as well paid as we are in the UK) and it’s all about inclusivity not exclusivity. There is an Events Lead on the VdGM Executive Board (FYI this position is opening next May) who we keep in touch with to ensure that we are obeying the ‘way of the Vasco da Gama’!
We are so grateful that the RCGP have been so incredibly supportive from the start and this is even better because they’ve just won the bid to bring up the grown-up WONCA conference to the UK in 2022!!
Currently, the plans are to open registration in July next year. Watch this space x