by A/Prof Coralie English

As my thumbs recover from tweeting up a storm at the Stroke2018 conference – see #Stroke2018Syd / #Stroke2018 (rogue hashtags abounded!) – I am reflecting on the Meeting: on lessons learnt, new insights gained, old collaborations strengthened and new connections formed.

My first SSA conference was in 2005 and I have missed only one of them in the 13 years since. In that time, as my career has moved from PhD candidate in Adelaide to leading a dynamic team of researchers in Newcastle, so too has the SSA Meeting evolved and developed. At the 2006 meeting in Adelaide, I was asked to convene a half-day pre-conference nursing and allied health workshop. How far we have come since those days! This year’s meeting included excellent integration of high quality research across the spectrum of hyper-acute care to living well with stroke, with contributions from stroke care specialists across all disciplines. The combined meetings with SmartStrokes have always showcased the very best of Australian stroke research and this one did not disappoint!

I had a very different perspective at this Meeting, as for the first time in a very long time I was not presenting, which allowed me the opportunity to sit (or stand!) back and absorb it all.  While there were many thought provoking and inspiring speakers, Prof Avril Drummond’s keynote was the highlight. Her vulnerability and honesty in sharing successes and failures in conducting rehabilitation trials was humbling and inspiring to hear. As quoted on one of her slides, we should all ‘learn from the mistakes of others – we won’t live long enough to make them all ourselves’.

But the real highlight of the meeting for me was the engagement with Sue Bowden, Brenda Booth and Caleb Rixon. Sue’s speech at the closing ceremony was moving, inspiring and absolutely essential watching for all health care professionals working in stroke. I am sure mine were not the only wet eyes in the room. I can say honestly that I have always strived to keep the needs of people with stroke at the centre of all that I do, and yet I listened with some shame to the stories that Sue told of her time in rehab and how my behaviour and language may at times have added to people’s suffering. We have so much to learn from open and honest engagement with the people who matter most in our work, whether we are on the frontline of clinical care, engaging stroke survivors in our clinical trials or in the ‘advanced science’ lab. We need to open ourselves to partnering with consumers in open, respectful dialogue. A simple first step would be to offer a consumer registration rate to future meetings. How have we missed this obvious opportunity to send such a message of welcome to the stroke survivor and carer community? I am immensely proud of what we have achieved and continue to achieve with the Hunter Stroke Research Volunteer Register and the community engagement this has allowed. We need continued, national focus on community and consumer engagement – including at our scientific meetings.

It would be remiss of me not to conclude with a call for our Society to continue to strive for gender equity in our Meetings. While this Meeting was a good example of gender balance in the Keynote and Invited presenters, in the 6-year history of Excellence in Stroke Care Orations, only one woman has been awarded this honour (the very excellent Prof Mandy Thrift). If we are going to grow our future generation of stroke leaders, we need to have female role models given equal visibility. Let’s rise to this challenge, team!

Coralie English, Sue Bowden presentation

Sue Bowden’s story is a must-watch: @Coralie_English tweets