The EULAR Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR Congress for short) is taking place in the elegant city of Madrid in Spain, from June 12th to 15th. For 2019, it is a joint congress with the Paediatric Rheumatology European Society (PReS). Quite simply, the EULAR Congress is the event you need (and want) to attend each year, to learn about the latest research, patient/family support and thinking in the world of rheumatology, as well as an opportunity to renew your energy and passion – because you are guaranteed to 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 Congress in London, Madrid and Amsterdam in 2016, 2017 and 2018 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!

EULAR Live

For the first time, the EULAR Congress is going live! This will be a great opportunity for people unable to attend in person to gain a flavour of some of the topics being discussed. So subscribe to the EULAR YouTube channel and watch the live stream of the following sessions:

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The registration area of the EULAR Congress in Madrid.

Número uno (1): Plan your sessions beforehand

Planning the sessions you wish to attend before you’re actually at the EULAR Congress is key. It’s never to early to plan either – you’ll still have an hour or more on the flight to Madrid! In theory, you may want to attend every single session; however, 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 occupational therapists, psychologists, rheumatologists, qualitative researchers, patient organisations and patient/parent advocates. EULAR and PReS 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/parent 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!

The best way to mar the sessions of interest to you is by viewing the online scientific programme, which offers detailed information on all session topics, speakers and abstracts, as well as downloading the official EULAR 2019 Congress App (see Número dos!)

Número dos (2): Download the EULAR Congress app

The EULAR 2019 Congress App allows you to import your itinerary plan and filter through daily sessions, poster tours, satellite symposia and exhibitions. 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! The app is available for download on Android and iOS devices. through Google Play and the Apple App Store, respectively.

Número tres (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’. I’m really looking forward to the new style of the PARE poster tours this year, which involve digital posters at stations with speakers presenting via a podium. 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.

Número cuatro (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 coffee, 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!

Número cinco (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), PReS and the European Network for Children with Arthritis (ENCA)!

The EULAR Village, where you can visit exhibitor booths, network, and take a moment to sit down and reflect!
The EULAR PARE Booth within the EULAR Village.
The EULAR Health Professionals in Rheumatology Booth within the EULAR Village.
The EULAR Booth within the EULAR Village.

Número seis (6): Make time to explore Madrid

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 Madrid. Madrid is a large city, but it has the advantage of having most of its monuments, museums and points of interest concentrated within a relatively small area, meaning you can explore it on foot. If you walk from one end of this tourist area to another without stopping at a good pace, it will take about two hours. However, Madrid’s extensive public transport system means you can get to any point in the city quickly and conveniently. Learn more about transportation and all the different options available to move around Madrid here.

Another useful tip is to take a printed copy of the address of the Congress venue, and your hotel – especially if you need to take a taxi. This should make it easier when trying to communicate where you want to go!

And one more thing…

Make sure you wear your activity tracker – you’ll reach your 10,000 steps before you’ve even had your lunch!

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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).

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