Trainees taking the lead at our St David's Day Conference

Dr Matthew Spencer led a group of enthusiastic paediatric trainees to deliver the RCPCH Wales St David’s Day Conference last week in Cardiff. The RCPCH Wales team asked Matt (pictured) a few questions about his experience before and on the day and if he had any advice for next year's organiser.
Dr Matthew Spencer presenting at St David's Day Conference 2024

Who are you and what was your role today?

I'm Matthew Spencer. I'm a paediatric trainee based in Wales, which I do 50% of the time. My other 50% of the time, I work as the Clinical Fellow for the Syndrome Without a Name Clinic.  

I’ve always had a bit of an interest in leadership and management and I completed my MSc in Leadership and Management at Swansea University in my first year as a trainee after coming back from a short stint in Australia. Ever since I’ve been looking at ways to use that qualification. So, when l was asked by a colleague if I wanted to have a role in organising this year's conference, I said yes, I was more than happy to help. I must say, when I first answered the call, I thought I was going to be having a slight role, I didn't realize that I'd be taking on the lead, which came as a bit of a surprise, but I said yes. So that's how we got here today. 

How did you find that organisation process?

The whole process was a learning one, having never organised a conference before (especially one with over 100 paying attendees). The first thing I did was decide that I'm not going to do this on my own. So l asked around and saw if there were any trainees who would be interested in joining me.  

I got eight fantastic trainees who said that they would be keen to help, and from there, the St David’s Day Conference was a trainee-led programme. I lead the organising, but we all took on different roles and divided the workload, which I would recommend for next year’s organisers. It was also a great way to meet some new trainees I had not worked with previously.

There was also an RCPCH internal working group that assisted with a ton of extra stuff including arranging the date and venue, speaker travel and accommodation and financing, which was helpful. They had a great team that provided support through the whole process and its been great to be able to work alongside the College in this respect.

How did you decide what you wanted to focus on?

I wanted to make sure the focus of the conference was what the trainees wanted and also a bit of what I wanted and am interested in, if I was going to be the lead.

I sent a short poll to our trainee WhatsApp group to see what themes the trainees would be interested in. Following this I looked around to see what was going on, what would make a good talk and asked around for speaker ideas. I also wanted to think a bit outside the box and see if I could get talks on topics I’m really interested in.

For example, I love technology, so for me that had to be part of the conference. In the end we managed to have two VR (virtual reality) sessions, one, on the benefits of using VR for the wellbeing of staff members and one that focused on using the medium for clinical teaching. Both talks were brilliant and following, attendees were then able to put on the headsets and give each activity a try.  

I also like reading and I read all sorts of books, some scientific and some not. I reached out to an author whose book (called “Sleep”) I'd recently read, and he (Nick Littlehales) said, yes to speaking at the conference which was a really interesting talk.

What piece of advice would you give to next year’s organiser?

My main bit of advice would be, if you're going to be the lead organiser on anything, put a bit of yourself into it. Make sure that it's something that you're interested in, because it will make it easier to be enthused about and hopefully, if you're interested in it, then other people will be interested in at least bits of it too.

Don't try and get the latest cutting-edge advancements in medicine or the most prestigious exclusive scientific speakers because you're just setting yourself up to fail. The St David’s Day Conference is about exploring ideas and interests, and connecting with colleagues, we don’t need the latest scientific talks to do this.

And finally, take a risk and reach out to people who you would like to be involved, the worst thing that can happen is that that they say no.

What was the one thing you found the most successful and interesting on the day?

Everything was interesting, I think the whole programme was brilliant and all the speakers were inspiring.

Matt Spencer, Lynn Neagle and Nick Wilkinson
Dr Matthew Spencer with Lynn Neagle, Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing and Dr Nick Wilkinson, RCPCH Officer for Wales

If I must pick a favourite, I'm going to cheat and I'm going to say two. I think the VR sessions. Getting people who have probably never tried a medium like virtual reality to see, the benefits of it in healthcare, and then also to actually have the opportunity to try it on for the first time was great.

I also really enjoyed doing the Dragon Bytes Live podcast. I think the speakers were fantastic, and there was just a really nice mix of questions. The Dragon Bytes podcasts helped me so much during my exams that it's great to see them be successful.

Is there anything you would have changed about the day?

There were quite a few technological mishaps during the first 20 minutes of the day and I felt that everything that could go wrong, was, which was very stressful. I guess we’ve all had that [Microsoft] Teams moment now where everything seems to be going wrong. However, the trainee team and the RCPCH team were brilliant – we had a plan B and we were quickly back on track. Thankfully, following that the whole day went pretty smoothly.

Is there anything else you would want the readers to know about the St David's Day Conference?

The St. David's Day Conference is a fantastic opportunity for anyone, and you don't have to be from Wales, to see what is going on in paediatrics in Wales.

As a trainee led conference its a great opportunity for trainees to take a lead role in the organisation and management of such an event. It’s also a great opportunity for all the trainees and consultants to get together and catch up AND to do it in person.

Just get yourself down to Wales, whether that’s Cardiff or somewhere else next year, the conference is a great day.

To get involved in the 2025 St David’s Day Conference email enquiries-wales@rcpch.ac.uk.