SMACC, the FOAMed Highlight of the Year

SMACC, the FOAMed Highlight of the Year

3264 2448 Kirsten Kingma


It has been of interest to note that the vast majority of the traffic on #badEM has been via Facebook sharing rather than twitter. This may mean that many of you guys haven’t discovered the full potential of the FOAM (Free Open Access Medicine) community. The SMACC (Social Media And Critical Care) conference is in its third year now as was held in June in Chicago, USA. SMACC is one of the big highlights on most FOAMers calendar; it is essentially the heart and soul of FOAM. SMACC over the past 2 years has had such a big impact on my medical education and mind-set that I decided that I was going to attend this year even if it meant sleeping on the streets. The next few posts will summarise the key points that I took away from the conference. This post aims to give an overview of what it is all about and how medical education is in my mind, is evolving.

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In the simplest of terms, SMACC is a medical conference with an emphasis on critical care; the talks are all done in a Ted talk style. The audience is encouraged to participate in the talks through use of twitter; this is used as a platform to ask the speaker’s questions as well as share key points to others not present in the session. The speakers are chosen based on both their academic backgrounds as well as on their ability to present to an audience. The talks are informative but in a non traditional way; slides consists predominantly of pictures with minimal or no text, graphs and complicated slides are discouraged, speakers are talking on topics that they are passionate about and there are no intimidating suits and ties. It creates an environment where the audience can sit back, listen and engage with the topic at hand. Some of the talks I attended went to all new levels of extremes to engage with their audience; there was beer drinking during sessions, mechanical bulls, Milo given to the audience, passionate slips of profanity, and even some nudity. None of this distracts from the main topic at hand, it becomes clear that the speakers put months of thought and effort into how they can convey their message in the best possible way. The speakers are a heterogeneous mix of professions, cultures, genders and opinions. Debate and conflicting ideas is encouraged, often the talk carries on for many days through the Twitter platform. As a medical student, the best analogy would be to imagine one had been eating rice their entire life and now they had been exposed to the finest cuisine around, it becomes impossible to satisfy ones cravings and all you want to do is over indulge.

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In addition to the presentations there were multiple pre-conference workshops. This is where the magic happened. The workshops covered a variety of topics both clinical and non-clinical. The value in the workshops is that is creates an environment to interact with the varying experts on topics that interest you. The smaller groups allow for networking and socialising while simultaneously learning. I was involved with the emergency airway, emergency ultrasound and cadaver skills workshop. Pre-reading and video content were sent to attendees to encourage a flipped classroom scenario and post workshop surveys were sent out for future improvement. The stations were designed to give off core knowledge and skills in a practical hands-on manner with faculty members giving assistance and advice.


The conference really distinguishes itself from any other through the emphasis on networking and socialising. Faculty, attendees, volunteers and students were all mingling constantly. Months before the conference #smaccRUN was created where everyone was welcomed to join in on a 5/10km run around Chicago. A constant buzz of open invitations to dinner circulated twitter daily. The gala dinner to which everyone attended was nothing short of a rocking music concert. A massive venue situated on Navy Pier housed many of the attendees till the early hours of the morning.


While FOAM tends to create “super stars” of the industry, it was refreshing to see how approachable and “normal” everyone is. It is often frowned upon to socialise within the work environment, especially with ones mentors. I left Chicago with my mentors now as some of my close friends. The level of discussion and open communication drastically improves when people are able to connect with each other. The removal of hierarchy and constricting boundaries creates an interesting situation where the real things that we often hide from honestly discussing can be approached. While many may argue that it is essential to keep “professional boundaries” between mentors and mentees, I now tend to disagree. My opinion has changed more to the need for mutual respect for ones roles rather than restrictive boundaries.

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I would like to thank the organisers Roger Harris, Oliver Flower and Chris Nickson for giving me the opportunity to attend this one of a kind conference. If you haven’t seen any of the SMACC podcasts, check out:

Next year is #smaccDUB, I would highly recommend it to everyone! This has really been a paradigm shifting, mind-altering experience that I would recommend to every healthcare professional.

  • #smaccDUB: Dublin Convention Centre; 13 – 16 June 2016. Limited to 2000 attendees so if you’re keen be sure to register early (Registration should open around November but follow @smaccteam on Twitter to find out more)


If you are not on Twitter: then I recommend you join today! A post will be out soon on “How to Get Your FOAM On” (and Twitter).