Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review of UPRAS 2011

By Dominic Yue

The 4th annual Undergraduate Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Conference (UPRAS) took place at the Royal Society of Medicine in London this year, drawing in medical students and junior doctors from all over the UK, with a handful of delegates from overseas. The programme spanned a weekend, consisting of lectures and, for those who registered early, practical sessions.

Experience in plastic surgery for undergraduates is generally woefully lacking and if any medical student entered the building with thoughts that the specialty is predominantly a route to an opulent lifestyle funded by copious private aesthetic work, the opening talk from the RSM’s Plastic Surgery Section President, certainly realigned such misconceptions with reality.

The immediate focus was on reconstructive work and highlighted principles of restoring form and function. Subsequent speakers echoed this along with vivid descriptions of experiences working in developing countries and charities. There was a variety of presentation styles, and one of the talks included a BAPRAS award-winning video that demonstrated the management of lower limb open fractures.

I was once told that plastic surgery is one of the most portable surgical specialties, with its surgeons able to perform a plethora of operations with relatively simple instruments – a blade, skin hooks, suture-holders and other such tools – all of which could fit into a briefcase.

It is also a true general surgical specialty in that its practitioners have to be able to operate anywhere from head-to-toe, not least because burns and skin lesions can affect all areas of the body. The sometimes complex but always wide-ranging skill of plastic surgery was clearly displayed in the lectures, describing the simplest of procedures to newly developed techniques.

The audience had a taste of some ongoing research such as therapeutic flaps, which could contain a pro-drug or radioisotope to provide local therapy in breast cancer patients.

The conference had a broad scope but was pitched at just the right level so interested undergraduates were given a succinct summary of the specialty without it being too detailed or overwhelming. The academic pathway in plastic surgery was also described and the scarcity of these posts was highlighted.

Although intellectually rewarding, potential applicants were reminded that academic posts are dual-jobs in that trainees have responsibilities of research as well as achieving the same clinical competencies as other trainees. As such, balancing social and work aspects of life becomes more of a challenge.

Throughout the weekend, there were no illusions as to the hard work and commitment that is required for a career in plastics. Advice was given to encourage those who are interested to spend some of their free time attending theatre lists, maintaining contacts and dedicate their elective to the specialty. This clearly echoes the extra effort that is required of the trainees – time taken for research, audits and projects inevitably ends up overflowing out of the rota work hours.

The conference is valuable for undergraduates and junior doctors who are still enquiring about the subject but for those who already know that plastics is their life calling, then the speakers were a source of inspiration, encouragement and a display of expertise to work towards. Especially when a passage tends to be long and meandering, it is helpful to have a picture of the end of the tunnel.

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