Montpellier 2019

Montpellier Conference 2019

The Metropole hotel is an elegant 19thcentury building in the heart of Montpellier, and it was here that the 36th Meeting of the joint societies took place between the 18th and 21st September. It is a short stroll from the historic centre, through largely pedestrianised spaces amidst honey-coloured stone buildings which overlook parks, gardens and ancient aqueducts. The only hazards to the unwary pedestrian are the smart modern trams and the students (there are 90,000 of these in Montpellier) on their trottinettes, both of which zip silently by.

Airport high jinks in Amsterdam left your reporter unable to give a first-hand account of the reception and welcome on the Wednesday night, but he was there for the opening of the scientific sessions on Thursday, introduced with wit and charm by Camille Benfredj, the daughter of our sister society’s president, who taught us about Montpellier’s beginnings, and its place on the Camino del Santiago de Compostela. During a highly stimulating morning we were updated on multiple sclerosis (getting better), personalised genetic medicine (getting better), endocrine disruptors (getting worse), leprosy (still there) and on the anatomy of Michelangelo’s bronzes (if the toes are in a straight line or the six-pack is not an eight-pack, it’s not a Michelangelo).

In the evening we foregathered at the historic Faculty of Medicine and learnt about its beginnings as a beacon of mediaeval tolerance, where teachers from Jewish, Arab and Christian traditions came together in the 13th century, just across the cloister from the great cathedral church of St. Pierre. We imagined lords spiritual and learned doctors riffing off each other in Latin in their shared space. It was a privilege then to dine in the courtyard looking up at the floodlit walls of these two great institutions, our appetites sharpened by a pre-dinner tour of the college and its famous anatomy museum, containing many wonders including Fontana’s superb waxwork models, as much as by a delicious aperitif.

On Friday we learnt about the rewarding challenges of teaching psychiatry in Malawi, and were then treated to three excellent presentations from our students competing for the James Tudor Prize, which went to the young woman who had been part of a team promoting sexual health in Togo. After coffee we learnt about new treatments for migraine, a joint planning exercise with NATO from our own medical military expert, and a French psychiatric view of the management of eating disorders.

Our final morning started with more French psychiatry, a talk on involuntary hospitalisation, and continued with an excellent summary of the advances in immunotherapy for cancer. A disquisition followed on the lessons medicine can take from jazz, bravely delivered in French by an English doctor, perhaps inspired by Miles Davis (“Do not fear mistakes, there are none”), before the scientific programme was brought to a grandstand finale by ‘Truth and lies in feminine sexuality’, a barnstorming historical and practical discourse on feminine sexual health which, like the bride’s outfit, contained something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Accompanying members had opportunities to explore more of Montpellier and its commercial and medical history, its atelier outlets where local produce and artefacts are still created on the premises, and those who stayed on Saturday enjoyed a wonderful boat trip to the nearby Camargue for dancing, prancing and dining with a gitane flavour.

Old friendships were cemented, new ones forged, and we left feeling that Brexit notwithstanding the entente cordiale is alive and well, at least in medical quarters. We look forward to Manchester 2020, where we must look to our laurels to emulate this superb meeting arranged by our French hosts.