Benefits and barriers: Sport & Exercise Medicine (SEM) conferences through the eyes of a student

Undergraduate perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine – a BJSM blog series

By Holly Weaver

lecture hallThe consensus amongst my peers was that being a team doctor in the Olympics would make a ‘Top 5 jobs in the world’ list. You may therefore be surprised to hear then that it is relatively easy to progress through undergraduate studies without encountering Sports & Exercise Medicine (SEM). Keen to remedy this, I set up a SEM society in my clinical school last year with the aim of encouraging interest in the speciality. Since then, to keep my finger on the pulse, I have made it my mission to attend as many conferences as allowed by my schedule (and bank account). So here is my level 5 evidence for SEM conferences –  through the eyes of a medical student.

The Student-orientated Conferences (aka ‘cheap as chips’):

  • Imperial Sports Medicine Conference – 14th May 2011 – Cost: £7

At a price even a student finds cheap, this was a great introduction to the world of SEM. It taught me the value of ‘networking’ as I made contact with other student societies which got the ball rolling.

  • ECOSEP SEM Student Congress – 18th-19th August 2012 – Cost £10

The excitement in the wake of the Olympics ensured a strong group of delegates at this inaugural ECOSEP conference aimed at students. My verdict? Definitely a success – I would recommend attending its next instalment. Integrating delegates from a variety of backgrounds demonstrated the importance of a multi-disciplinary team approach to SEM. My highlight was the seminar on exercise prescription; in my opinion this should be covered in all medical school curriculums.

  • Cardiff SEMS Olympic Conference – 15th December 2012 – Cost £10

After the hugely successful first conference held by the Cardiff Sports & Exercise Medicine Society (CSEMS), I made sure I took full advantage of the impressive programme on offer at the Cardiff SEMS Olympic conference. The opportunity to attend different workshops, in addition to inspiring key note lectures, enabled me tailor the programme to my personal preference.

The Professional Approach (aka ‘big names, big money’):

  • UKSEM International Conference 2011 – 23rd-26th November 2011

I attended UKSEM for free as an undergraduate representative for the Manchester SEM Society. It was a grand affair at the Excel centre in London, attracting an international roster of leading SEM professionals. Many expressed interest in the student society, however the scale of the conference venue and the lecture programme precluded people from spending much time in the exhibition hall.

  • World Sports Trauma Congress – 17th-20th October 2012 – Cost: £150 for 2 days

Thanks go out to my college for providing the financial support for this conference; the price, even with the ‘early bird’ price discounted for training grade, would have stopped me from going otherwise. I was keen to go as the emphasis was on sports orthopaedics. This combined with the ticket price meant that I had high expectations. The scope was huge, and in terms of organisation, venue and sponsors they ticked every box. All of the speakers were fascinating and I learnt a lot about a subject matter I was never exposed to previously. However, I didn’t leave buzzing with excitement. I realised that this was because it was pitched at people at the stage in their careers where the cutting-edge topics weren’t just cool, it was what they needed to keep their skills up to date. This conference simply wasn’t aimed at me. In fact, few conferences are aimed at individuals in the early stages of their career.  However, students should still attempt to attend conferences, placing a higher priority on networking & getting a foot into the ‘SEM door.’

Taken together, my experiences and conversations with peers suggest that medical students must use their initiative to fill our current ‘SEM knowledge gap.’ There is little benefit from just waiting for SEM to feature in the undergraduate curriculum!!

7 tips for students attending SEM conferences:

  1. Sign up early as many have early bird ticket prices (and buy train tickets early too)
  2. Get sponsorship, some of them are overpriced for a student budget – ask about funds at your university or relevant student society
  3. On the same note…take advantage of the cheap ones! Don’t assume because a conference costs a tenner it will be inferior to the pricey one with all the big sponsors
  4. Plan the sessions you will attend and research the speakers; it enables you to pinpoint which topics interest you so that you can read a relevant paper or two
  5. If you achieve No. 4, remember that if you’ve got a good question, ask it!
  6. Get stuck in at practical workshops, it’s easier to chat over a model knee than at formal ‘networking breaks’; at least it’s an ice breaker if you can’t tell your PCL from your ACL!
  7. Choose a conference that is happening now and put it in your calendar for next year; plan to enter the poster competition or submit an abstract and keep your eyes peeled for the submission deadline! Voila, extra CV points!


Holly Weaver is a final year medical student at the University of Cambridge Clinical School. She is the founder and president of the Cambridge Sports and Exercise Medicine Society (Cambridge SEMS).

Liam West BSc (Hons) is a final year medical undergraduate student at Cardiff University, Wales. He coordinates the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series for BJSM.

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