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International Congress: a medical student's perspective

I write this as I reflect, the morning after returning from the RCPsych International Congress, upon four intense, thought-provoking days of a tour-de-force programme and surrounding community.

It’s hard to do this experience justice, but here are three of my personal highlights and learning points:

Old friends, new friends

Congress provides the invaluable opportunity to catch up with old friends, make semi-new (having met many previously on Twitter) and new friends, and expand one’s local psychiatry network.

I feel fortunate to be interested in a specialty whose Royal College, in conjunction with its #choosepsychiatry campaign, provides affordable opportunities for medical students, and it was a joy to encounter again old contacts made at the National Student Psychiatry Conference, Wessex Psychiatry Summer School, Psych Art Conference, and more.

New connections, both personal and professional, were formed by fortuitous meetings in the seminar venues, poster area, wellbeing activities such as the pre-conference cycle ride, and specific social opportunities for students and trainees such as dinner at the Old Brewery in Greenwich and a networking lunch.

The enormous breadth and scope of psychiatry

I was inspired anew by the enormous breadth and scope of psychiatry, both within the discipline and its intersection with the wider fields of e.g. literature, film, ethics, and law.

As a humanities graduate, it is this intra- and interdisciplinary reach, unique among the medical specialties, that I find especially engaging on an academic level.

One minute I was listening to the compelling growing field of research linking inflammation and depression and its accompanying call to break down the medical apartheid that separates the physical from the mental (@edbullmore). 

The next I was absorbed in a psychodynamic seminar which advocated powerfully for more nuanced formulations of mental illness incorporating a multi-axial approach addressing the complexity and uniqueness of every patient presentation.

A line of thinking in tandem with a stirring keynote reminding us that psychopathology is so much more alive and dynamic than just grouping certain symptoms into the same entity (@femimind). 

We must be willing to learn from our mistakes

The uncomfortable yet overwhelming necessity to be willing to admit to past and current failings on a systemic and individual level, if we are to move forward and progress in psychiatry with sincere hearts.

The Congress would not have left such an enduring memory and call to action without the courageous disclosure of service users and their families.

In the absence of hearing these stories, where would have been the reminder about who we are striving for? The shared experience of two daughters, for whom the absence of early intervention eating disorder services escalated into admission into inpatient units where the “identity of being an anorexic took hold” (@markaustintv, @lovebillybragg).

The lack of recognition that distressing symptoms were understandable learned ways of survival, and the subsequent internalised stigma of receiving a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder in the absence of compassion and kindness (@salbod1985). The misrecognition of iatrogenic-induced akathisia, culminating tragically in suicide.

Lessons to learn from and to do all in our power to ensure the past is not repeated. Adopting the successful model of outpatient-focused eating disorder care. Truly listening to the patient’s story through a trauma-informed lens. Providing detailed education on life-threatening side effects of psychotropic medication. Refusing to separate health from politics and campaigning for better funded and organised services. 

Final thoughts

It was a pleasure to attend Congress as one of six “Social Media Champions”.

My tweets can be viewed @Naoraz1. A special mention to Kate Adlington for the creation of this role, and to the RCPsych for supporting it.

Until the next #choosepsychiatry opportunity…


Blog Author
Naomi Rasmussen

RCPsych International Congress social media champion