How big conferences can change to make sure our future leaders aren’t excluded

Andrew Walton, Executive Chair Connect Health, reflects on the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) Congress held 10-13 May 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland

Andrew Walton, Executive Chair Connect Health, reflects on the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) Congress held 10-13 May 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland

This is my first attendance at the physio equivalent of Davos. It was similar but with less snow and less billionaires. Overall, the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) Congress was a good forum and enjoyable conference – well organised, there was a huge choice of content, the venue was highly fitting with great access, the pre-conference process was efficient and the evening entertainment was appropriately modest (knowing how expensive Geneva is). There was a great number of nations represented, however, the age demographics seemed, inevitably, to be biased in favour of those more established in their careers – be they clinicians, academics or representatives of the national physiotherapy associations.

Rethinking the need for change

The programme recognised the need for change, with good discussions on health promotion and the impact of data, and the debate was mature. But maybe that’s a problem. Given the cost of attendance I suspect many would not have been there if they hadn’t been funded by their employer or their membership. It is highly likely that individual physios, particularly those in the early part of their careers, could not afford it (particularly when you add in the cost of travel, accommodation and taking time out of the workplace) and therefore the debate lacked the diversity of perspective. If an organisation i.e. a university or provider, sends someone to a conference like this it tends to be someone senior or established – as a 56yr old Chairman of a provider I am not saying that group can’t have good, forward looking ideas but I admit, I won’t look at the future and its risks and opportunities in the same way as someone at the other end of their career journey.

So, how should the conference change to be more inclusive?

A greater variety of ideas and youthful energy asking different questions would create alternative conversations, learning opportunities and different take home lessons.

Given that there will be more change required in physiotherapy to restore sustainability over the next 5-10yrs, there will be more change than there has been over the last 30. So, it’s crucial we include all views and not just those of the established, global “elite”! 😊

How could we make it more accessible? Greater use of technology, more online material, talks, chatrooms etc to prepare in advance. Shorter conferences with more debate (rather than typical theatre style presentations), free places for 5 representatives aged under 30 from each country, create “safe spaces” at conference for under 30s to speak confidently and freely about the future, live video links ….I am sure/hope there are better ideas out there.

Incidentally, the biggest/most expensive stands in the exhibition hall were from those selling goods with an unreliable evidence base. We are sending out mixed messages here and should, therefore, stop taking their money.

The sustainability of physiotherapy depends on only using evidence-based interventions (including our softer skills). Stopping doing the procedures of low clinical value releases time and increases efficiency. We can then use that as the investment in innovation.

WCPT Focussed Symposium “We need to talk about data” featured the latest case study about MSK services in Nottingham, UK.