‘The ISICEM is the largest meeting in this field in the world; the three major meetings are those of the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) at around 4,000 participants, the European Society of Critical Care Medicine (ESICM) at around 5,000 and we are at almost 6,000,’ he explained. ‘Of course, other meetings are larger, for example, the American Thoracic Society (ATS) meeting, but this includes all pulmonologists, and doesn’t just focus on critical care.’
Has the financial crisis caused a decrease in participants?
Jean-Louis Vincent: ‘Meetings in general are seeing some decline in numbers. This is not only the financial crisis but also the development of internet-based education programmes and other factors related to improved communication platforms and data transmission. However, for the ISICEM, a slight decline in participants from European countries (some European countries in particular) has been compensated by an increase in the number of participants coming from further away, for example, North America, China and the Far East, so the number of participants is actually quite stable, and the meeting is becoming even more international. This has always been a particularly attractive aspect of our meeting because the opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues right around the globe is an important means of promoting and expanding critical care medicine.’
Has the Square Centre in downtown Brussels become too small for this event? ‘Yes, the Square can accommodate about 3,500-4,000 participants – and we always have more than that number. Even with renting other rooms in the vicinity and constructing a tent to provide more room, and careful estimations of how many people are likely to attend which sessions, sometimes there is still only standing room. But, people like to be in the centre of the city, so we will stay here.’
Why do you choose to remain in Brussels?
‘First, it’s my home city, so I’m a little biased, of course! But, apart from that, it’s such an attractive town, with easy access by train, plane or road, which is really important; there’s also good accommodation and restaurants, famous chocolates and beer, a friendly atmosphere… I could go on. People just love Brussels. Yes, the weather in March is very unpredictable, but we chose March because there are not too many other meetings at this time of year and March has become synonymous with the ISICEM, so we couldn’t change it! Anyway, if the weather is fine, people have extraspecial memories of their four days, and if the weather is bad, the participants stay in the conference rooms and we have better discussions!’
Do the same participants come, year after year? ‘Yes and no - those who can come every year, do so - some participants are very proud to state that they have attended the ISICEM every year for x number of years. However, in some centres, people come only every other year, so that other department colleagues also get to attend. ‘You can’t shut down an intensive care unit for a few days as you can an out-patient clinic for example. In many cases, about half the ICU doctors remain at work in the hospital while the other half comes to Brussels.’
How vital is industry support?
‘Industry support is essential and, for many meetings, this has become a big issue. With budget cuts, exhibitions are shrinking everywhere but, at our meeting, we have actually seen support increase every year, not only in terms of the number of companies, but also total financial support. This is because of the “topdown” approach in which companies choose just the very few most important meetings to maximise cost-effectiveness - and the Brussels meeting is at the top of their list.’
Briefly, what’s the secret of the ISICEM’s continuing success?
‘I believe one of the most important positive aspects is that the ISICEM is fully independent - we are not part of a scientific society that needs to follow a fixed ethos and please all its members; we can operate free from internal politics and just focus on looking for top quality speakers from around the globe.
Finally, the ISICEM is now in its 33rd year - when will it end? Personally, I’d like to continue until we reach our Golden Anniversary – the 50th ISICEM, but others will take over. After all, it would be a shame to stop this winning formula!’
Jean-Louis Vincent MD PhD, Professor of Intensive Care at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Head of the Department of Intensive Care at Erasme Hospital in Brussels, is also Secretary General of the World Federation of Societies of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine and President of the Belgian Society of Intensive Care. He is author or co-author of more than 800 peer-reviewed publications, about 90 books and more than 800 original abstracts. He is editor-in-chief of Critical Care, Current Opinion in Critical Care, and ICU Management and on the Editorial Boards of more than 30 journals. He has received many awards for his work, including the prestigious Belgian scientific award of the FRS-FNRS (Prix Scientifique Joseph Maisin-Sciences biomédicales cliniques).