The Energy and Courage to Try New Things: My Memories of STFM Conferences Over the Years

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John Frey, MD

I have been attending STFM meetings since 1972, when I went to my first meeting as a resident, and have missed only three since that time. Those first meetings are all a jumble in my memory but mostly I remember feeling as if, somehow, I had found sanctuary, at least for a few days each year. Everyone was busy with the work of starting a career without a roadmap, making it up as we went along and comparing notes at the annual meeting. I suppose I had the idea that STFM meetings would have “the answers” but as one of my early residents said, it took me a few years to realize that there were no “answers”, just more questions and that was as it should be.  I would go home with my head full of possibilities. Fortunately, that feeling has never left me.

Our small cohort of residency graduates among the teachers naturally gravitated toward each other. We have remained friends for almost 50 years now. But, once we realized that the “leaders” were not that much older than we were, we felt like our voices counted as much as anyone’s and that our ideas were valuable and useful. It reminded me of when I was in seventh grade and the eighth graders were “the big kids.” Then I became an eighth grader and I didn’t know how I had grown up so fast. Those friends from the 70’s are all in our 70’s and retiring, as are the generation of people who were our residents and fellows.

The first time I presented at a meeting, I had worked hard to get the timing of slides down in my short presentation and had repeatedly practiced every slide change. The only problem was that I had dropped the carousel of slides just before I started and hurriedly put them back, not realizing that I was mixing up the sequence. As I presented, clicking the slides forward, I looked at the puzzled faces of the audience and realized that what I was saying had no relevance to what the slides showed. I wanted to go hide somewhere but the audience still applauded – like we always do – for the effort if not for the results.

So what is important about these meetings, perhaps especially in a ubiquitous world, is that intense conversations, face to face, about ideas, challenges, life, the world, and anything else that seems important is what fuels collegiality, gives us energy and courage to try new things, and a makes place to reconnect and find out what has worked and what has not. I am still eager to see what is new, to get excited by things I had never thought of, and applaud people for the audacity of their ideas, and the excitement of seeing their hopes and dreams and accomplishments presented up there in front of us.

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