This year will be my fourth consecutive attendance at the EULAR Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR Congress for short), which for 2018, is taking place in the vibrant and lively city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Quite simply, the EULAR Congress is the event you need (and want) to attend each year, to learn about the latest research, patient support and thinking in the world of rheumatology, as well as an opportunity to renew your energy and passion – because you certainly will leave feeling invigorated and motivated to conquer the world!

Remembering my first EULAR Congress

I first attended the EULAR Congress back in 2015 in Rome, Italy. At the time, I was still fairly ‘new’ to EULAR, having joined the EULAR Young PARE working group in January 2015, and having attended my first EULAR Annual European Conference of PARE in April 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. During this Congress, I presented two pieces of work that I had worked on in the UK as a patient research partner. While I went to Rome armed with my presentation slides, I had no idea what to expect – and was quite frankly overwhelmed by the experience (but overwhelmed in a good way!) As I turned up at the Fiera Roma Congress Centre, the heat was sweltering and I was greeted by what seemed like an endless marathon up and down the Congress Centre! I opened up the programme, and spent hours debating about what I should go to, feeling spoilt for choice and unsure how I could make the most of my time at this fantastic conference. Since then, I have joined the EULAR ongress in London and Madrid in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and have certainly learned how to get the most out of this event – so I’ve included some reflections in this blog which I hope will be useful for first time attendees and regulars alike!

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The registration area of the EULAR Congress last year in Madrid

Tip No. één (1): Plan your sessions beforehand

Planning the sessions you wish to attend before you’re actually at the EULAR Congress is an absolute must in my opinion, and it’s never to learn to plan – you’ll still have an hour or more on the flight to Amsterdam! While in theory, you may want to attend every single session, the reality is a completely different story! You have to be selective in what you want to attend. This applies particularly to posters, as it is not possible to go through all of them at the Congress, but it also applies to the sessions, because there are just so many to choose from. Also remember that not every session will be right for you – the Congress attracts people from all walks of life – from scientists working in the laboratory, to rheumatology occupational therapists, psychologists, consultants, qualitative researchers, patient organisations and patient advocates. EULAR do a great job of highlighting who the sessions are tailored for, which helps you to decide what is right for you, though it is worth noting that these sessions are open to everyone, and indeed it’s great to see a mixture of people with different backgrounds attending the rich and diverse sessions on offer:

  • The Scientific Programme, typically aimed at researchers and rheumatologists, covers the broad spectrum of rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, including state-of-the-art lectures, basic science and clinical symposia, abstract sessions, presentations and discussions of difficult cases, workshops and special interest group sessions.
  • The Health Professionals in Rheumatology Programme focuses on high quality research, clinical practice and the development of health professionals (including nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and psychologists) to improve outcomes for people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases and to improve the quality of care they receive.
  • The PARE Programme (noting that PARE stands for People with Arthritis and Rheumatism in Europe) attracts a broad audience, including dedicated representatives of patient organisations and patient advocates who use their acquired knowledge to educate and influence a wide range of stakeholders about rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. The Congress is the ideal venue for national patient organisations across Europe and from around the world to share best practices and to gain cutting-edge knowledge about the treatment, care and quality of life for people with rheumatic musculoskeletal diseases.

Therefore, I suggest that you mark the sessions of interest to you and actively seek them out. Don’t try to cover everything at the EULAR Congress, otherwise you will be overwhelmed and will exhaust yourself. Try and focus on your priority areas, and perhaps a few new areas to you, or areas that you are intrigued by. I also make the effort to attend at least one session that is outside of my area of interest, for example, to find out what is happening in other disease areas, or to find out what is happening from other perspectives (e.g. basic science, clinical/applied research and patient organisation activities) – you never know what may happen as a result! Marking the sessions of interest to you can be greatly aided by downloading the official EULAR Congress app!

Tip No. twee (2): Download the EULAR Congress app

The EULAR Congress app is the best way to plan your itinerary while at the EULAR Congress. The app, available on both iOS and Android platforms, contains all the information you need to navigate through the EULAR Congress in Amsterdam, including: session details, satellite symposia, exhibition and useful service information around the Congress. The app has various search functions, including by topic/category, time and speaker. The app allows you to export to your calendars too, and also offer a reminder function within the app itself – what more could you ask for!

Tip No. drie (3): Sign up for poster tours

There are so many posters at the EULAR Congress! You’ll find that there will be some guided poster tours too, which are useful ways to learn more in-depth about different ongoing work in a small group format, typically over lunch during the official poster viewing periods. However, you need to register in order to participate in guided poster tours, which are often limited in numbers, therefore it’s wise to sign up for poster tours early on the day, as it’s ‘first-come-first’served’. Registrations are usually made at the poster tours and workshop desk located in the registration area. Further information will be available when you arrive at the Congress centre.

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Here’s one I made earlier…! I presented a poster at the EULAR Congress in 2017 on behalf of Young PARE, which was selected to be part of one of the PARE guided poster tours.

Tip No. vier (4): Don’t be shy

The EULAR Congress is not a place where you want to be shy! What a fantastic opportunity it is to be in the presence of some of the greatest people in the world of rheumatology – and now is the chance for you to make yourself known, and to get to know other people. If you’re like me, going to the EULAR Congress increasing resembles attending a big family gathering – honestly! I speak highly and fondly of my EULAR family, who over the years, have provided me with invaluable support, guidance, opportunities and friendship, and it’s an observation many people experience upon reflection. Therefore, when you’re in a session, at a poster, in the EULAR village, or getting yourself a caffeine boost, say hello to the person next to you – introduce yourself, be inquisitive, and talk about your experiences – you never know who you may meet, and that this partnership could well be the start of something great in the future!

I will always remember my first EULAR Congress for this: It was the end of a very long and productive day, and I jumped on the coach from the Congress Centre back to my hotel, in the centre of Rome. As you do, I was sat on the coach, looking through the piles of booklets and brochures in my conference bag, until I overheard two ladies behind me talking about something related to patient research partners, and my ears pricked up. As it turned out, Adele and Carol had become involved in research, like me, and were now working within a University group to involve people in rheumatology research. I couldn’t contain my excitement! As it turned out, this spontaneous and unexpected conversation on a coach in the middle of Rome led to a great friendship over the years, as well as opportunities to work together which has been wonderful. So yes, never be afraid of speaking up!

Tip No. vijf (5): Remember to take breaks and make time to explore the exhibition areas and EULAR Village

If you’re not careful, you’ll end up burning yourself out – so remember to take breaks, especially over lunch. Breaks are great opportunities to take a look at posters, to network, to explore the exhibition areas and to visit the EULAR Village, which houses many organisations from around the world, and is also home to several EULAR booths, including: the EULAR Executive Secretariat, EULAR PARE, EULAR Health Professionals in Rheumatology, the Emerging EULAR Network (EMEUNET) and the EULAR School of Rheumatology!

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Tip No. zes (6): Make time to explore Amsterdam

The EULAR Congress is a busy few days, and your mind will be on overdrive as you absorb information, learn from others, and talk more or less non-stop to friends and colleagues, old and new! Therefore, it’s always good to make some time for yourself, and what better way to do so than by exploring Amsterdam. Amsterdam has a great public transportation service, but the compact city centre means most facilities and sights are within walking distance of each other. Learn more about transportation and all the different options available to move around Amsterdam here.

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And one more thing…

Make sure you wear your activity tracker – you’ll soon reach your 10,000 steps a day target!

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Finally, some useful links…

Written by simonrstones

Simon R. Stones BSc (Hons) is an award-winning patient advocate, consultant and researcher from Manchester in the UK, who was the winner of the international WEGO Health Award for Patient Healthcare Collaborator in 2017. He is a passionate advocate and ambassador for people living with invisible illnesses, inspired and empowered by his own journey with juvenile arthritis, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory bowel disease since childhood. He is currently an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, a trustee of Fibromyalgia Action UK and RAiISE, and board member of the European Network for Children with Arthritis (ENCA) and the European Network of Fibromyalgia Associations (ENFA).

One comment

  1. Great post Simon, really gives off a brill atmosphere.

    Cheers for those links because you’ve just saved me some time as I was just writing my piece in #chronicillnessVOICE for #EULAR2018 and needed those links 🙂
    Enjoy! and look forward to hearing all about it

    Wishing you wellness and safe travels

    Carole Sian and FibroFlutters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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