SMACCGOLD – Punk Rock, Paeds, Palliation & People


SMACCGOLD 2014 on the Gold Coast was like punk rock. Subversive, political, honest, rough at the edges and committed to thrashing out the issues that matter. Ironically, on further reflection, the second installation of Social Media and Critical Care Conference struck me as having parallels with one of my favourite speakers of the program, Deniz Tek himself – older and wiser than the Radio Birdman days, more accessible to the mainstream, less likely to punch you for disagreeing, but still able to excite, destroy unfounded dogma and put on a world class show.

Punk rock was there in spades. But I’m going to leave others to write about Weingart, Levitan and Reid, the top billing rockstars and I’m going to try and give feeling to my experience of SMACCGOLD.

The conference, for me, began on Monday night, the eve of the pre-conference workshops, sitting at what would become the unofficial SMACC Bar, having a beer with Tamara Hills (see 17 Minutes – deserved winner of the PK Talk). We were reflecting on the past twelve months since we had last met, when the bar began to fill up. As it filled we realised we “knew” these people, many of them in fact. Known from tiny little profile pictures. I had been discussing my quandary with Tamara, ‘how familiar should you be when you have not really met these people?’ I didn’t have to wait terribly long to find out. I was approached and greeted by a large smile and a proclamation of ‘You get a HUG!’ So… thanks for dispelling my concerns Natalie (@_NMay). This is what is great about SMACC. I proceeded over the next few days to build genuine friendships with people I had only held sub 140 character interactions with previously. I met many more people, some who will be great professional colleagues over distance and others that will be genuine friends.


Damian Roland and Natalie May – I’m proud to now call them friends


SMACC Running Group

Tuesday morning began with an open invite group run, organised the evening before via Twitter. Another great opportunity to meet like minded people from around the globe, but, instead I mainly ran with Roger and Cliff and my mind is certainly not comparable. It was here though that I met Damian Rowland, paediatrician, researcher, education maestro and NHS Change Day Co-Founder (@Damian_Roland). To add to that illustrious list, he can now claim to be the only man for whom I have taken my shirt off to be filmed by a room full of people. Another example of the power of social media and another person I would call a real friend after four short days.


Me stripped bare in front of a hoard of new Video Case Study experts in the #edusmacc workshop

I will write a separate post on the Education Workshop, but needless to say, anything Chris Nickson touches turns to GOLD so it was pretty awesome (Grilled My Corn).

My approach for managing the challenge of four equally brilliant concurrent sessions with clashes of massive proportions, was to generally avoid the main arena (as I know these were all being filmed) and head to areas of particular knowledge weakness or curiosity. This yielded some of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in an audience. Hands down, my favourite session of the Conference was the Paediatrics session on Day 3. A little tired and emotional (post conference dinner shenanigans( and missing my kids, I pitched up to a session on Paediatrics, ready to learn, but largely to see Natalie present (much anticipated text free slides) and also watch Greg Kelly, Gold Coast Intensivist and Westmead Palliative Physician as he had said a number of things that resonated with me in the End of Life plenary on day 2. Man was I blown away. Both Natalie and Greg were playing to a packed audience, standing room only (check out Vine Clip of packed house). I learned a great deal from Natalie on tips and tricks for looking after sick kids, but it was more than that. The care and compassion that was emphasised, it was evident that there was more than just an excellent clinician on stage. Then, the surprise packet, Greg Kelly, hands down my favourite talk and ensuing Q&A of the entire conference. I was in tears. Greg traversed his experiences and advice for caring for the dying child.

Greg urged us to:

1. See clearly – Benefits vs. Burdens not Withdrawal vs. Everything),

2. Discuss compassionately & honestly, allowing families to make loving decisions,

3. Act confidently. Know death and commit to spending at least 15 minutes in the room with dying patients to understand what death looks and feels like.

I have Storified the tweets from Greg’s talk and they are well worth a read (When Children Die)

If nothing at all else this session made me realise how lucky I am.


My beautiful kids

So, my experience of SMACCGOLD was dramatically different in comparison to SMACC 2013. I don’t know how much of this was me and the point I find myself in life, work, family and self and how much is actually because of skilfully and elegantly crafted conference program with amazing speakers (I suspect quite a portion of both). I don’t think comparisons between last year and this year or SMACC and other conferences are particularly beneficial. What I will say that my three take home from SMACCGOLD 2014 are:

  • A brilliant speaker, is brilliant regardless of profession
  • Critical care is about people and their ability to think and appraise the information at hand critically
  • Close to half of what we do now is wrong, but keep acting on the best and most plausible evidence to hand

In closing this post, I wanted to give the last words of acknowledgement to Greg Kelly. When asked an excellent question by an audience member as to advice on tips for dealing with the sudden and unexpected death of a child, Greg replied ‘Come to work as a human, remember that the patients and families you are dealing with a humans and everyone is doing the best they can’.



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  2. Wise words Jessie, it was truly a pleasure to meet you and to share the experiences that you so wonderfully describe. Like you I found that first night meeting at the unofficial social central (Bavarian Beer Cafe) truly inspiring. Instantly finding friends who I’ve never met in person, yet seem to know so well.

    I really hope to see you and everyone else who was so marvellous in Chicago next year.



    • Thanks for reading Simon. I really tried to sit in the feeling of the conference rather than the content. The Monday night was a really unexpected experience and it really did feel like a bit of a first meeting of people you have met through an online dating website. It was nice to get to know the people behind the profile and realise that all these individuals striving to do things better have their own day to day fights in their places of work. It sounds cliched, but it was an honour to meet you and many others. Will definitely keep in touch.

  3. Dear Jesse, I entirely agree that this was a powerful and emotive conference tray was truly full of suprises. True momentum and tone was set right at the start and it didn’t let off until I was on the plane after #simwars. All the best!


    • Thanks Andrew. Couldn’t agree more. If I didn’t have my wonderful family to come home to, I’d imagine the post-climactic slump may have been somewhat akin to a semi-depressive episode. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

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