numero rivista e pagine: HSR Proceedings in Intensive Care and Cardiovascular Anesthesia 2012; 4(1): 53-54
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One lump or two?

Authors: M.. John*1,2

Head of Medical Humanities International MD Program, Professor of Biomedical Communication Skills,
Faculty of Medicine, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy

Corresponding author: * Corresponding author:
Prof. Michael John
UniversitÓ Vita-Salute San Raffaele
Via Olgettina, 48 - 20132 Milan, Italy
E-mail: michael.john@hsr.it

Stardate 134548.7. Dr Krik is flying through the galaxy towards yet another interstellar biomedical congress. This time it’s about brain transplantation. Dr Krik has been invited to present a holographic poster that talks of his team’s most recent surgical procedure. Of course, we are a very long way from Baron Frankenstein. Nowadays, brain transplantation is the norm and nobody even thinks for a moment that something might go wrong with the procedure.
He gets to the congress, he sets up his poster, he stands and waits for an audience to arrive in dribs and drabs. The morning drags on slowly, with no more than ten fellow scientists (the word people would be out of place as there are aliens from all over the galaxy at this congress) stopping by to study his data.
Coffee time!
Let’s go back in time to the 21st century, and imagine our Dr Krik is attending an international congress in Los Angeles, rather than on the other side of the galaxy.
As usually happens during the coffee break, or during any social activity that takes place during a biomedical congress, colleagues start chatting about this and that and begin to get to know each other on a more personal level. Of course, conversation is not necessarily focussed on limited areas of biomedical interest, but on the contrary can deal with such diverse topics as family, hobbies, holidays, sports, music, food, home town, and so on. Everything and anything!
The very same doctors that have no difficulty whatsoever discussing mitral valve surgery or abdominal aneurysms might easily find themselves at a loss having to catch a bus in London or read a menu in a Manhattan diner. A reasonable command of informal English is needed, and this cannot always be taken for granted.
Naturally, as with anything else, the more you do something the better you get at doing it. Therefore, people that regularly attend congresses abroad are generally less prone to difficulty, and are able to deal with whatever is thrown at them, or whatever obstacle they might find in their path.
Back to the coffee break, which is an important moment when you can meet people, also being an important parenthesis where you can make deals, organize eventual collaboration and exchange, and generally get all sorts of things sorted out.
However, you need to break the ice and start the ball rolling. We all know that English is the esperanto of the biomedical world, and a decent command of the language, especially informal conversational language, is required in order to improvise any kind of dialogue, however simple and straightforward the topic of discussion might be. Nobody likes making mistakes, especially when you think you will possibly be judged on your mistakes. This can lead to some rather silent coffee breaks or gala dinners.
We have said on numerous occasions that the majority of people that use English in the biomedical community do not speak it as a first language.
Therefore, almost everybody will have the same problem when faced with having to break the ice during an informal occasion and, generally speaking, the person that does kick start the conversation will be greatly appreciated by one and all.
The time machine hurtles us back to the 24th century, where Dr Krik has just started his coffee break. Times have not changed so much, at least as far as this ritual is concerned. The coffee break is still a time when people can get together and bridge that inter-disciplinary gap that sometimes separates us from colleagues that do not work on exactly the same cells as we do.
It is an invaluable moment for exchange and needs to be taken advantage of without hesitation. “One lump or two?” might be sufficient words to start up a conversation that will possibly change your future, and the future of the next Dr Krik.


'This is the thirteenth of a series of articles on this topic. Send any questions to michael.john@hsr.it who will answer them as part of this column'