February 2020

By Dr Adam Januszewski, Higher Specialty Trainee in Medical Oncology and Honorary Clinical Fellow, Imperial College London

On application to medical school, lifelong learning is what I signed up to. Although at that point I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant – exams, assignments and textbooks!

What it actually meant was ‘Continuing professional development’ … and that’s what each and every one of us signed up to when we decided to pursue a career in thoracic oncology – from trainee to consultant and across the disciplines. Although, to be honest, through most of my training I also wasn’t entirely sure what it is. I thought it was only what consultants do once they have that magical CCT. In fact, the academy of medical royal colleges define it as ‘a process that enables doctors to maintain and improve standards of medical practice through the development of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour’ (ref).

I would argue that while you can gain a lot of your up to date knowledge through reading journal articles, press releases, trial updates, FDA reviews and NICE appraisals etc, a more in depth understanding only comes through critique, discussion and debate – and this alone cannot be done in a quiet study.

Having attended BTOG for the last couple of years, it was only this year, when I reflected on my experience, did I understand that the BTOG conference is central to this for the lung cancer community in the UK. Symposia, debates, sharing research, trial updates, service developments … the list goes on. It is these activities, alongside the discussions over tea and coffee that are as important (if not more) as the learning of new information. I always thought that these were the ‘nice to haves’ rather than the essence of what a conference offers. This cannot easily be replicated elsewhere in a clinicians’ calendar and evidence to support this can be found in the record breaking year with over 1000 attendees!

I didn’t realise quite how much is out there at the moment for trainees in thoracic oncology – the NCRI are encouraging trainees to participate and present trials at NCRI sub-groups, EORTC are pairing young investigators with senior investigators for international studies and the ETOP offer invaluable educational slide sets and residential workshops. This is in addition to what BTOG offers through workshops and resources and also the wealth of posters with trainees presenting research, audit and data at the conference.

Attending BTOG this year also made me proud of all the excellent work that is happening across the UK in thoracic oncology – from screening studies to diagnostic pathway redesign and from surgical and radiotherapy studies to systemic treatments.

I have been to BTOG as a trainee for a couple of years now. Each year I am worried if or who I will know. This year I turned up to dinner at the conference to take the only remaining seat. My fears were soon allayed as it happened to be next to a respiratory trainee and opposite a medical oncologist. It reminded me though that the BTOG ‘family’ not only are a friendly and open group, but when they come together with a common purpose it doesn’t matter who you sit next to as everyone (normally!) gets along.

To me, it is not only the treatment updates that as a trainee I find interesting, it is ‘continuing professional development’ in its widest sense which the BTOG conference is unique in providing trainees and the thoracic community in the UK. It is this that, alongside the clinical knowledge, will allow us as clinicians to further develop for the benefit of patients.

Whether you are new to the specialty or an old hat, the annual BTOG conference delivers that lifelong learning we all want so that we can best care for our patients.