18 February 2021

It’s time to bring the conversation back

ACR COVID-19 EULAR public health

The greatest cliché of COVID is that it has taught us a lot of things, but few speak to the times quite like the way we’ve changed our human interactions in a short space of time.

We just don’t seem to have the conversations we used to. We might have myriad platforms and discussion tools that can reach us anywhere with an internet communication, but there’s nothing quite like standing around with some colleagues in person and working through the challenges in our speciality, the controversies and the intricacies which make our speciality so fun.

It’s not been the same this last year, and I blame the necessary evil of social distancing for making us socially distant. There are too many people whose opinions I value but with whom I haven’t been able to have the casual corridor conversations that make me think, and make my professional life interesting. The COVID world is seemingly full of opportunities to have these kinds of interactions, and I’m as glad as anyone that ACR and EULAR can be consumed in full in my living room and that I can tune in to international developments more and more readily. But there seems to be something missing.

Can we still bounce ideas off each other like we used to do in person, though? Can we indulge in the intellectual engagement which has always been at the core of rheumatology? Where do we discuss the issues of our time: encapsulating the elusively floating butterfly that is non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, how tight is tight enough in treat-to-target, how can we get the best out of our gout and fibromyalgia patients, can we actually ever cure some of our diseases, and so much more? In the clinic corridors, on the sides of conferences or in-person meetings, we used to have the intellectual debates that make rheumatology great.

These are the interactions I miss, these are conversations which underpin our specialty. Now more than ever we need a forum to help us rebuild some of this academic dialogue – and we would like Rheumatology Republic to help fill that role in Australia. Beyond the small group discussions that we have with our direct colleagues and friends, I hope this can be the place we can have broad conversations about the challenges we face within rheumatology.

We’re a small enough specialty, but one where there’s a lot of room for interpretation, where there’s space for many ideas on how we do things and how we approach our patients. Sharing these ideas can only make us stronger.

I am hoping that we can do that at Rheumatology Republic. This year, I’ll be one of many committing my thoughts to paper every so often, my conversation starters about the good and the bad – and I hope that they’ll be part of a conversation you want to be part of.

Of course, I won’t be the only one talking, nor do I want to be. We want to celebrate that diversity of opinion that makes us stronger, and there are a lot of great thinkers in our community. You might not always agree with them, you might agree with them all the time – but I’m hoping that it’s something that you might enjoy listening to and respectfully engaging with.

I won’t be talking politics, because we’re too small a speciality to be divided, but also because our speciality is already complicated enough at the bedside and we’ve got enough to talk about otherwise. What I will be doing is inviting some people I’d like to hear more from to give their academic thoughts through a broader forum to respectfully share some ideas. Some of these people are my friends, some of them I barely know, but hopefully all will be worth listening to.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts in this magazine, I’d really like to hear from you.

There’s so much that we’ve got to talk about in our specialty. We’re in an era where we’ve come through a lot of the easy wins, but there’s still so much to take on – and it’s really only by having the conversation that we become better conditioned and stronger, better clinicians, better researchers, better educators, better advocates, better collaborators, and a stronger speciality. 

You can reach me at any time at david@medicalrepublic.com.au and I’d love to hear your thoughts, your ideas and your opinions as to what our specialty needs. Let’s start the conversation.

Dr David Liew is the new Deputy Editor of Rheumatology Republic and a rheumatologist at Austin Health