It is with regret that this letter begins, like the last, with news of the death of one of our most eminent colleagues. Professor Arnold Starr, neurologist, neurophysiologist, and neuroscientist, and founding Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of California, Irvine, passed away on July 2th, 2023.
Early in his career, Arne, as he was known, became fascinated by the complexities of the brain, leading him towards medicine and then neurology. His curiosity led him to view gaps in our knowledge as personal challenges. His research focused on auditory and somatosensory neurophysiology, cognitive psychology and clinical neurology. Perhaps his work on short and long-latency evoked potentials will form his academic legacy, including his work on auditory neuropathy.
Less easily quantified, he was a wonderful clinician, loved by colleagues and patients, combining compassion with sharp diagnostic skills. He was also a remarkable mentor, an open minded, intuitive educator, with infectious enthusiasm. Always concerned with clarity of thought and expression, he would say: ‘If you cannot not explain it to a teenager so they understand it, you do not understand it,’ (without denigrating teenagers of course).
In its meetings IFCN celebrates eminent researchers through plenary and other lectures, promotes education and our next generation through fellowships. This month, however, I hope you’ll not mind my focussing on matters which are more to do with day to day and indeed year to year concerns.
I am delighted to popularise a new EMEA Chapter initiative, led by Professor Anita Antal, The EMEAC Mentorship Program. This is aimed at young colleagues in training or at the start of their clinical/academic career who seek career advice outside their own institutions. The hope is to offer advice about not only how to combine clinical and research work, networking, and insights into different promotion and funding options. Its aim is also to pass on advice about how to combine all these with having a partner and family, not an easy task and one not raised much. Though the program is set up for one year, this can be extended, with both sides encouraged to establish a long-term relationship and as a result, facilitate mentees with their self-confidence, resilience, social skills and independence. IFCN usually considers results and research, but equally important are these human qualities which we all need to pursue our career and in our lives beyond clinical neurophysiology.
EMEAC is looking for Mentors, who should be IFCN members, experts in their field who are passionate about sharing career experiences, able to interact effectively, and who have time to support a mentee. They should also be fluent in English. Mentees should be IFCN members, a neurology/psychiatry, neurophysiology, etc resident or medical doctors within the first 5 years of national board certification (junior consultant), PhD students (neuroscience and related fields) or Post-Docs (no more than 5 years into your post-doc position), and again be fluent in English. As a tempter, successful participation for one year wins free registration to the next conference ECCN, in 2025, London), for both for mentors and mentees. More information is to be found here:
Other chapters may watch on to see if they might follow.
Another area of our specialty of concern is perhaps vaguer and more difficult to approach. IFCN’s mission is to promote best practices in clinical neurophysiology through education and research throughout the world. As such, we focus on our researchers and esteemed teachers, and encourage our trainees and students. Yet most consultants live and work without standing on lecterns at congresses or spending their time filling out grant applications. Instead, they are doing immensely valuable clinical work week in week out, over years and decades. In doing so they develop great skill and experience but may also become tired and isolated. I do not know if this is a concern or not, but I do sometimes wonder if within IFCN we assume that, once trained, consultants become invulnerable EMG or EEG machines. In the UK we have an accreditation scheme where we sit with a senior colleague, mainly to check a person has kept up with their continuous medical education, and to judge competence to practice, but also to keep an eye on fellow consultants’ resilience.
In our rather rough and ready survey of EMEAC training and practice, Survey we did touch on more senior colleagues’ concerns, which included increasing workload, poor recruitment and ‘burn-out,’ sometimes leading to early retirement. The EMEA Chapter’s paper on training and practice paper and its more recent one on harmonization of training, Article, mention workload and pressures. If these are concerns are shared and relevant, then there are no easy solutions. Though outside IFCN’s core areas recognition, if there is a problem, might be one place to start.
Lastly to happier matters. The ninth congress of our Latin American Chapter and the twenty-eighth congress of the Mexican Society of Clinical Neurophysiology, is to be held from November 14 to 17, 2023, at the Hotel Galería Plaza San Jerónimo, south of Mexico City.
I know it is close, but I am sure this will combine an excellent academic and social programme, made even more memorable by being the first LAC chance to meet face to face since Covid. ExCo IFCN will also be in attendance with its members giving several lectures. I will leave it to readers to decide whether this is an additional draw or not.