COVID Conferences: How has the Pandemic affected Dental Events?

Normally, dental professionals will have a diary booked with Conferences and Event... but another casualty of the pandemic is the cancellation of most of these events...

We have become accustomed to events moving online since COVID-19 hit the UK in March. Conferences and events, often planned years in advance, were cancelled, postponed or moved online. 

I have lost count of the number of webinars I've tuned into over the past 9 months. While it has meant that there is increased flexibility for learning since we no longer have to travel physically to events, or block off time in our diaries to account for this, the lack of face to face interaction is something I miss!

As a dental trainee, I have requirements that through my training I have to deliver presentations, usually at conferences. But with conferences cancelled, how do I still fulfil these requirements?

Thankfully, some organisations have moved their events online so that trainees still have some opportunities to either do oral or poster presentations. These have been in webinar format, but also some ePoster competitions. My huge thanks to organisations who have adapted in this way.

The aspect of dental events that is very difficult to replicate virtually is the networking that happens in the coffee and lunch breaks. I have attended some virtual conferences which have tried to emulate networking with 'virtual cocktails', or other activities like yoga or meditation which encourage delegates to get up and moving between talks! Future virtual events should be encouraged to think of ways to connect delegates as well as combat the webinar fatigue many of us are facing staring at our computer screens for hours a day. 

On top of this, what about the hands on practical elements of many CPD events or courses that are virtually impossible to replicate virtually? There are some exceptions, for example I recently held a webinar with students teaching and practicing British Sign Language and Makaton, but on the whole, the practical skills essential in dentistry are hard to simulate at home. 

Hopefully with the vaccines being rolled out, in the future we can move back to face to face events. But what can we do in the meantime to make the most of learning virtually?

  • Stay connected. Social media might be starting to have negative connotations (if you've watched the Social Dilemma!), but it is also a very powerful tool to stay connected. Many individuals and organisations hold live events that can be great to learn from, but join in with discussions and connect with people; my favourites are Live Twitter Discussions and Instagram Lives. 
  • Don't sign up to every webinar under the sun. You will get bored. Select what you think would interest you and what would be useful for your learning. Watching webinars live are preferable in my opinion, as you can directly interact with others and the speakers if you have any questions, but there's still nothing wrong with watching webinars on demand - many speakers leave their contact details if you wanted to ask anything afterwards
  • Follow Dental Societies. Most have moved their events online, or hold webinars, where, especially useful if you are a trainee, will have opportunities to enter ePoster competitions
  • Practice practical skills. Some hands on courses are still running on lower capacity for social distancing, but you can still practice some skills at home. For example, practising tooth carving on soap or wax, suturing banana peel, using out of date composite to practice build ups on models etc. 
  • Don't multi-task! I think there is the temptation if you are attending an online event, to try and do something else at the same time as the webinar - checking emails, working on something else, household chores etc. You wouldn't do these things if you were attending a face to face event... if you end up doing it at a virtual event, should you even be attending the virtual event? 
  • Create the events you want. If you have identified a learning need, but there isn't an event available, why not create it? It's never been easier - no longer do you need to hire a venue, all you need is a Zoom or Microsoft Teams account! Dental societies (including student societies) will often have accounts and be happy to facilitate these webinars and there are other online dental CPD companies such as Dentinal Tubules or ProDental CPD who can also help with the setting up and running of the events. Plus if you're looking to do presentations as part of your training, this ticks that box!

What are your experiences of virtual events and webinars during COVID-19? Please leave them in the comments below.

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