My experience of running a society group (and my first conference)
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
In my second year of medical school, I started getting involved in student societies as a committee member – committees are made up of groups of students who are responsible for the running of the society and its events. I’ve had a variety of roles within societies such as mental health officer, events officer and President – each has given me an insight into the organisation, marketing and leadership that goes into running events. This year I was the President of King’s College London African Caribbean Medical Society (ACMS) and in the next academic year, I am the Co-President of Obstetrics & Gynaecology Society.
My advice for joining society committees is to go for it! Put in an application and be keen. Try to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) - where they elect the new committee - with a range of ideas that you think could improve the society. Pick societies that you either enjoy or you think could help you decide on your future career (e.g. medical societies).
KCL ACMS, formed in 2018, aims to inspire and equip African and Caribbean students to pursue careers in the field of medicine and thrive within it. The society provides a platform that facilitates networking and encourages medical students and doctors to accomplish their career aspirations. During my year as President, I wanted to grow the society by accumulating more members across all the year groups of medical school, increasing our social media presence and engaging more in public health, especially health inequalities disproportionately affecting black communities.
KCL ACMS ran its first national conference on breast cancer awareness for black women: ‘Let’s Talk About Black Women and Breast Cancer’. BAME women are less likely to attend breast screenings but are also often affected at an earlier age. They may have a delayed presentation for treatment and be at a more advanced stage at diagnosis — all of which can have an effect on their chances of survival. This event set out to encourage BAME women to be breast-aware, meet others going through what they are going through, or causes a health professional to think differently about their approaches to treatment for women of colour.
So how do you run a conference?
1. Outline the aims of your event and develop a mission statement for it.
This will form the foundations of your event and enable you to then go ahead with requesting sponsorship and creating a ticket platform. With no clear description of the event and what it aims to do, you cannot do this. Consider the following (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How):
What is the event?
Why are you running this event - what is it aiming to do? How will it benefit those who attend?
Who is your target audience?
How is the event going to run? - Have a clear agenda of the day (s)
When is the event going to happen?
2. Calculate a budget
Excel spreadsheets are your best friend. You need to plan what you need for the event and how much each item is going to cost. This needs to be very specific: down to speaker costs, marketing materials and catering (if any) on the day.
3. Acquire sponsorships
We had the help of a Dr. Oni – a Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon – to raise sponsorship funds for the event. We gained over £5000 in funding from companies like Endomag, Pfizer and Genomic Health UK. You do need money to run a conference so find companies or organisations that align with the aims of your event and the theme of the conference.
4. Book a venue, sort out catering (if any) and begin buying the items you need
Book a venue and catering in advance. Your university will often give you a venue for free as you are not required to pay fees for room bookings as a student society.
Decide where you can get your catering from in accordance with your university's policy.
Begin buying the items you need for the conference e.g. canvas bags with logos, printed leaflets/programmes for the day. You will also need to consider logo creation and marketing.
What did you learn?
Before running this event, I didn’t know that breast cancer was “more often advanced” in black women and it was hard to find published statistics to prove this in its entirety (which I also hope to change...)! Breast cancer survival rates across all ethnicities have improved in the last few years: treatment is better and diagnoses are made a lot earlier... however, our event explored some of the reasons why breast cancer may have poorer health outcomes in black women in particular: • is it genetics?⠀ • is it a lack of awareness?⠀ • is it the taboo that surrounds the diagnosis (or prognosis) in the black community?⠀ ⠀ The answer is still unknown for now but we touched on all of these areas and got lots of different opinions from the public, breast cancer survivors and healthcare professionals too. Working tirelessly with my amazing final year friends and Dr. Oni all paid off in the end! With over £5000 in sponsorships under our belt, the event was such a success, our attendees learned a lot and so did we.
The great team of medical students who were also on my committee ran outreach sessions as part of our African Caribbean Raising Aspiration (ACRA) Programme to encourage students from African and Caribbean backgrounds from as early as Year 7 to consider higher education, especially medicine. In November 2019, KCL ACMS was awarded Society of the Month for our achievement of a Gold award on the new Student Union accreditation scheme. This makes us a gold standard society for our work in inclusion and outreach, our contribution to black history month, our events focusing on wellbeing and volunteering.
I loved my time being President of KCL ACMS. It allowed me to evaluate and adapt my own leadership skills, aided my personal and professional development and allowed me to network with amazing medical students and doctors. I encourage everyone to try for a committee position at least once in university.
Further breast cancer reading:
Richardson LC, Henley J, Miller J, Massetti G, Thomas CC. Patterns and trends in black-white differences in breast cancer incidence and mortality—United States, 1999–2013.
Schatzkin A, Palmer JR, Rosenberg L, et al. Risk factors for breast cancer in black women.J Natl Cancer Inst. 1987;78(2):213-217.
Allicock M, Graves N, Gray K, & Troester MA (2013). African American women's perspectives on breast cancer: implications for communicating risk of basal-like breast cancer. Journal of health care for the poor and underserved. 24(2), 753–767. https://doi.org/10.1353/hpu.2013.0082
Gerend MA & Pai M. Social Determinants of Black-White Disparities in Breast Cancer Mortality: A Review. https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/17/11/2913.full.pdf