President's Blog

How do we reconcile international conferences and emissions from travel?

22 April 2022
4.5 Min Read

By NZSAwebadmin
How do we reconcile international conferences and emissions from travel?Main Image

I have struggled to write this month’s blog. The chatter in my head fuelling my self-doubts and the feeling of imposter syndrome (who wants to read this, surely what I have to say is irrelevant?!)

I have read a lot about our inner critic over the last two years. I was certain for so long that it was a necessary voice in my head to have got me to where I am today. I mean would I really get myself out of bed at 0500 to ride my bike if I didn’t have that voice yelling at me to ‘get my lazy a**e out of bed’ (amongst other things, that may be reminiscent of a drill sergeant’s tirade)?! But increasingly I am challenging the negative rhetoric that is often the feature of that voice and trying to talk to myself in a kinder, more caring way, like how I might speak to a good friend for example. And amazingly, it does feel good (even if sometimes I choose to miss the early ride and have a longer sleep!). My most recent revelations about the inner voice have come from a book by Ethan Cross: Chatter. The voice in our head and how to harness it. Ethan suggests ‘the ability to step back from the echo chamber of our own mind so we can adopt a broader, calmer and more objective perspective is an important tool for combating chatter.’ A key tool is to be able to distance yourself from the chatter – using your name or second person ‘you’ is a strategy recommended for this. I have been trying it out this week, although I suspect it is something I have done less consciously in the past. So, what would Sheila do when overwhelmed with a missed deadline and a head full of negative chatter? She would sit at her desk, set her timer, and just make a start. So here I am, timer set, making a start!

The funny thing about this is I already had a topic in mind, so I was one step ahead in the process compared to usual! That is TRAVEL – particularly international flying.

As we are now past our Omicron peak, and into the long tail, international travel is back on the cards. I attended an ANZCA Council meeting via zoom at the weekend. It was Vanessa Beavis’s last meeting as President, and her first in person council meeting of the two-year term. When I agreed to take on the Presidency of the NZSA I was very aware of the meeting calendar, which has almost monthly meetings across the Tasman. Having been very grateful for zoom initially, and the time it saved, I now really feel the distance that cannot be overcome through a screen. As committee members have changed, it is hard to develop relationships with new faces when you have never met them face-to-face. Similar comments have been echoed by Jacinda Ardern this week from her trade trip to Singapore and Japan. And of course, when it comes to travel for CME, we know that access to specialist courses, world leading techniques etc. often requires overseas travel to expert centres.

So, what is the problem? Well, it’s climate change of course.

There was a scathing article in Stuff last month commenting on emissions related to air travel in various DHBs, solely blamed on senior doctors using taxpayer money to fly at the front of the plane (somewhat paraphrased!). But it touched on an issue that had been on my mind as I listened to colleagues who are desperate to travel again.

I must acknowledge that to even be having this discussion, whether we should start travelling again or not, comes from a place of privilege and is a luxury not afforded to a significant proportion of kiwis.

So, what is our responsibility as senior doctors in this regard? Not surprisingly the views are mixed and often polar. We need education, to be with family, to experience different cultures vs the emissions from flying. We actively lobby the government to consider climate change impacts on health, and how this impact will be felt heavily by our already disadvantaged communities. Can we do this one day, and the next get on a plane to London, especially if we choose business class? It is hard to deny the data about the impact of health on emissions. With a third of DHB emissions said to be related to air travel, is our air travel the easy target to bring about a meaningful reduction? We know we need a multipronged approach in healthcare delivery to combat emissions; it’s not all about air travel. But the spotlight may increasingly be on this aspect and tackling this will certainly require changing what we have done up until now. Perhaps the pandemic provides the opportunity to look at this through a different lens and bring about productive alternatives, particularly to the traditional approach of accessing continuing medical education.

Talking of change, we are about to undergo significant change in our office. Daphne, our Communications Manager, and Lynne, our Membership Manager, are leaving this month after six and five years respectively with the NZSA. They have re-assured me it’s about them not me, honestly!! They have both been a fantastic part of our NZSA family and we will really miss them. I’d like to personally wish them both all the very best in their new adventures.

Timer’s up…