swimsa convention – disaster & emergency medicine:

Posted by Vita Sinclair

Fri, 6 Apr 2012

I decided to attend the Swiss Medical Students’ Association (Swimsa) Congress this weekend because as one of the Co-Presidents of the Organizing Committee for the imminent Medsin Global Health Conference, I thought it would be valuable to learn how another country does it. What’s more, the theme of Disaster & Emergency Medicine is intimately related to Conflict and Health, the theme of our conference.
Saturday morning, the congress opened at the reasonable time of 9:45. There were professional translators sitting in a booth above the lecture theatre translating from French to Swiss-German and occasionally visa-versa. The Swimsa President Alex switching mid-sentence between the two languages tested their skills! The first plenary “Emergency Medicine: a game of chess” was an interesting introduction to the theme and I was relieved my French was up to it. The Swiss cite the Napoleonic wars as the beginnings of Emergency medicine, with the development of first aid and triage – no mention of Florence Nightingale! The next plenary, “The MSF Experience” was delivered by Medical Director of MSF-Switzerland. They’re keen to start Friends of MSF so later I told them what I knew of how FoMSF is in the UK.

At the project fair, Marrow had a strong presence as did Achtung Liebe (Attention Love), the Swiss Sexpression. Particularly interesting was a project called METIS (Movement of Students Working against Inequalities in access to Health) which amongst other activities, organizes bilingual medical students to act as on call interpreters for patients who don’t speak the national languages. What a great idea, definitely worth exploring back in the UK with Medsin! The afternoon plenary on Mountain Medicine was more Wilderness Medical Society than Medsin.
We had a special evening celebrating 95 years of Swimsa with a very civilized dinner with speeches aplenty featuring:

  • 1. a riddle (alluding to Channel swimming and French grammar!)
  • 2. the founding IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) president reminiscing on how it all started
  • 3. hearing about some epic congress back in the 70s held at a castle and involving some kind of tandem bicycle gymkhana fun and games (though they were sponsored by Marlboro then!)
  • 4. a Skype-in speech from a Swimsa alumnus

The highlight of Sunday was a plenary on “Stress in Emergency Situations” by a former trauma surgeon who founded a holistic health approach to stress, ‘oge’ (the reverse of ‘ego’). I only half-followed what he said. The take home message was: to be present in the moment by making yourself more aware of your body and senses e.g. by wiggling your toes! I asked him whether stress can be considered useful and not useful. I was chuffed when he said my French wasn’t bad for a Swiss-German speaker, however I didn’t really get his answer!

It’s been really great to attend the Swimsa conference and they loved having international student delegates. They mocked my handwritten ‘business’ card but at least we’re not sponsored by pharmaceutical companies! Though, apparently the Swiss are PharmAware, just not PharmFree. Here’s why I think it’s worthwhile and I’d urge Medsinners to attend our counterparts’ conferences if ever the opportunity is a real possibility

1. It’s brilliant for forging working partnerships for exchanges and international advocacy projects and activities.

2. It’s in this environment that new ideas are conceived.

3. It’s worth trying to connect with other proactive medical students abroad just to find out what they’re up to and to make friends.


Hopefully a few Swiss will be coming to Medsin’s future conferences. And our attendance at IFMSA members’ conferences will grow, whether as individuals or a small delegation.


By Juliet Drummond.

Juliet is a third year medical student at King’s College London and is a co-president of the upcoming CONFLICTED conference at King’s on the 14-15th April.

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