Tuesday, September 08, 2015

2 +10 years of AWESOME; an awesome journey really!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

In 2002 I was extremely disappointed after attending a national conference of Indian Academy of Pediatrics. The huge unmanageable crowd, more outside the lecture halls, the din and the boisterous noise making conversations a labored exercise, the never ending serpiginous queues for getting food, the delegates carrying overstuffed carry bags, with mostly trash in them and those traveling by air leaving them back in hotel rooms, for the scientific deliberations hand picked, oft repeated speakers, either pharmaceutically forced or dictated by being in good company of the power that be, it all conjured up a badly dabbed piece of painting. And for a few like me who did not avail pharma industry's generous sponsorship it was a great financial loss with virtually very little academic gains. Then I wrote in the official journal of the academy, to which I have made a reference to in my earlier blog. (Indian Pediatrics 2002; 39:445-448) I offered to hold a meeting without sponsorship and where the focus would be only science sans all frills. How little did I realize it was like going to Everest without oxygen supply, at best a suicidal adventure!

I talked to a very good friend of mine, a wonderful pediatrician and a right thinking person, Dr. Girish Subramaniam from Nagpur, I went to Nagpur and met the office bearers of local IAP and showed them the reprint of my article and expressed the desire to hold a meeting there under their aegis. There was a palpable all round scorn and scoff. The majority opinion that was emerging was how a person in his right elements could think of such an outrageous idea! I could feel the saplings trampled by the might of majority. Then it happened, I really do not know how but it did. I am unaware of the back stage confabulations with the local political bigwigs of academy (sounds very paradoxical, political bigwigs of academy, but it holds no surprises for me, that is how academics are run today). When ultimately the Nagpur branch IAP's the then President Dr. Milind Munshi acquiesced, with the clear understanding given by the powerful people that my name would not figure anywhere (How can a person from smaller place come to our city and try to steal the show, does he have political aspirations in the academy?). Dr. Milind put this across to me and I readily accepted the proposal, it will happen without my name. We together planned a scientific program and even took extra contributions from a few trusted colleague just in case. It is another story that we could do it without the extra contributions and refunded the extra amount. It was a great event and liked by one and all. Dr. Amdekar, Dr. Surjeet Singh and Dr. Ravi Ramakant were amongst the other speakers.

Thus began the journey.

Next year the task was more uphill, I did not have the courage to even broach the topic to Raipur branch, I was very acutely aware of the opposition that it would meet. And I had a valid inkling to think that way. There hung a huge question, "under whose banner". Then it clicked. I remembered the good work done by Dr. Satish Pandya and Dr. Aun Phatak from Baroda and their Rational Drug Society, I sent a request and they readily agreed. Thus the second event became possible. The colleagues from our own Ekta Institute lent whole hearted support and this event too was a huge success. Dr. Amdekar, Raju Khubchandani and Dr. Kirtane were amongst the erudite and eloquent faculty.

Then the spark!

I threw the gauntlet to venerable Dr. Amdekar, "Sir, Raipur is a smaller town and logistically it is easier to do here, can you do it in Mumbai?" Why not was the prompt reply from him known never to shudder when challenged?

And we were then truly on the course.

Dr. Amdekar's 2 trusted colleagues, Rajesh Chokhani and Anand Shandilya, who do every assignment with a degree of involvement, commitment and dedication which only the twosome are capable of, rechristened the "CME with difference" of past 2 years as "AWESOME". It was an acronym for Academics With Excellence Science Only Minus Extravaganza. This about conveys the entire philosophy of this activity which has now become a movement. We have had multiple events in Mumbai, Baroda, Nagpur, Thane, Raipur, Gwalior, Pune, Sholapur, Aurangabaad, at times meetings at more than one place in the same year.

The culmination was the 10 year celebration in Mumbai on 6th September. It was extremely well attended and enjoyable, interactive meeting.

What seemed impossible a decade ago has become a bench mark, an activity wholly on delegates' contributions and very enjoyably focussed on Science.


  1. Our experiment with AWESOME at Gwalior was grand success not only in terms of science but also in conveying the message that a good conference can be arranged at 1/10 of cost of conventional conferences.

  2. Dear Dr Agarwal
    I read your blog with great interest.
    It is indeed an awesome achievement. My heartiest congratulations to all the medical faculty who have stood on the correct side of the ongoing 'Science versus Economics tug of war’ over the years.

    It is human nature to acquire freebies and accept 'gifts'. A degrading and insulting exploitation of this knowledge is best seen during pharmaceutical infested medical conferences. International free trips to conferences, by foolish doctors who believe there are free lunches in this world, is another glaring example.

    It is also been made to look okay by bribed renowned doctors publishing a ‘declaration of interest’ in their talks and journal publications. It is not okay since in doing so the ‘role models’ of the medical fraternity are misguiding the impressionable young minds who are reading this nonsense!

    Wouldn't it be interesting to see one article where the author concluded …’there was no statistically significant difference between the two products’ and then adds in the foot note - ‘’Declaration of interest - I have accepted payment from this Pharmaceutical company to prove their product is unnecessary. and I have presented this is London Seattle and Melbourne at their expense. Serves them right for wasting my precious time.”

    I have met quite a few of such remorseless souls in England. It is disheartening and certainly never in the patients best interest. With billions invested in the business, the companies are not in it to listen to individual moral lessons and there lies the real problem.

    Change is unlikely to happen by teaching old dogs new tricks. The Pharmaceutical companies are continually training their employees on how to corrupt doctors and improve ‘sales', hence focus and debates on such things in the medical school will have a meaningful and longer term impact.

    During AWESOME conferences, perhaps inviting medical students to actively debate on the pros & cons (and reach conclusions by self reflection), will have sustained benefits. The idea must be to train future generations of doctors, instead of just fire fighting.

    It goes without saying that rather than a tug of war or master-slave mechanism, pharmaceutical industries must be treated with respect and as partners in patient care on a professional level only. At the end of the day the Pharmaceutical personnel have families and mortgages to pay too :)

    Dr Prashant Hegde
    Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care
    Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

  3. I also strongly feel that we should have more meets like AWESOME. Let us learn to pay for our learning.