Rotorua delivered a record-breaking Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) Winter Symposium, with 345 attendees.

Themed ‘Te Wero’ - The Challenge, the event included speakers from Christchurch Hospital’s Emergency Department who provided emergency care during the Christchurch terror event on March 15.

Showcasing New Zealand’s indigenous culture was an important part of the event, from an immersive Māori medicine experience to the unveiling of a new initiative to improve emergency care and health outcomes for Māori.

As the heartland of Māori culture, host city Rotorua embraced the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) 2019 Winter Symposium theme ‘Te Wero’ - The Challenge. It delivered a record-breaking event that both exceeded attendee expectations and tapped into New Zealand’s emergency medicine expertise and unique culture. ACEM expected some 220-250 attendees, with final attendance at a record 345 delegates.

ACEM decided on Rotorua for the two-yearly event after Tourism New Zealand provided destination proposals for a location that could showcase New Zealand culture, while also providing a good venue, options for social functions outside the venue and the ability to get delegates – and their families and friends – out to experience more tourist options in the region. Tourism New Zealand also funded and hosted a site inspection in Rotorua, with New Zealand PCO Conference Innovators delivering the event.

Melanie Rule and Bethany Boulton of WRaPEM (Wellness, Resilience and Performance in Emergency Medicine), note: “If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that a career in Emergency Medicine is full of challenges. So, Te Wero, the challenge, was an apt theme for the ACEM Winter Symposium in Rotorua. Did our New Zealand brothers and sisters rise to the challenge? They most certainly did.”

A formal 'Te Wero' took place at the Welcome reception at cultural and geothermal attraction Te Puia, with ACEM President Simon Judkins accepting the challenge from a local warrior. Conference Convenor Peter Freeman adds: “Although the Te Puia geyser did not put on much of a show for us, the venue showcased the remarkable local geothermal scenery and then delegates were able to mingle and catch up with old friends with plenty of liquid entertainment and substantive canapés.”

The next day’s opening session included a traditional Māori pōhiri welcome ceremony, then rousing kapa haka performed by Raukura Kapa Haka group from Rotorua Girls and Boys High School.

Rule and Boulton add: “From the very first moment, as delegates were welcomed in the traditional Māori way with a pōhiri (a welcome ceremony) and the wonderful singing and dancing that followed, the themes of clinical excellence, courage and social justice were at the fore. It was a special highlight to see the men of ACEM invited to learn the Haka up on stage.”

A powerful address by well-known New Zealand activist and artist Tame Iti opened proceedings.

It was followed by a moving presentation drawing on the experience of Christchurch Hospital’s Emergency Department during the Christchurch terror event on March 15.

“Many will remember the first keynote address from Jan Bone and Dominic Fleischer for years to come,” Freeman says. “This was a fitting tribute to the horrific events of 15th March but also to the resilience of the people of Christchurch and the dedication of the emergency services who responded to an unprecedented act of mindless terror. Both speakers received a spontaneous standing ovation.”

A range of well-received talks, presentations and workshops followed. Highlights included two off-site workshop events: a practical session cycling in the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest involving a rescue; and Te Rongoā Māori bush walk, an immersive Māori medicine experience.

New initiatives introduced at the conference included the establishment of a new section, AWE - Advancing Women in Emergency - to promote diversity in the college; and the unveiling of the Manaaki Mana strategy, an initiative to improve emergency care and improve health outcomes for Māori.

Freeman said The Millennium Hotel proved to be a great venue for both plenary and concurrent sessions, with Rotorua putting on lovely weather for a range of mid-week activities. These ranged from the Redwoods Tree Top Walk and Nightlights, to beer tasting with beer writer Geoff Griggs, a dinner at Rotorua’s Terrace Kitchen, and relaxing retreats at the geothermal Polynesian Spa.

Rule and Boulton add: “Rotorua city itself put on gorgeous sunrises over the lake and wonderful weather for delegates for most of the week. Despite rumours that the sulphur smell would be overpowering, it was not enough to stop many delegates heading out in search of the many outdoor activities on offer, including treetop walks in the redwood forest, geothermal parks with mud pools and geysers, mountain biking, luge rides and zorbing.”

A gala event at the Blue Baths ended the programme with an impressive 1930s-themed dinner and dance.

Freeman said that feedback has been very positive: “We believe we remained honest to the theme of 'Te Wero' and responded to the many challenges facing our specialty, our community and both our countries.”

Following the successful event, the annual ACEM Annual Scientific Meeting will be held in Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre in 2021.

Melanie Rule and Bethany Boulton of WRaPEM conclude: “The highly anticipated announcement of the 2021 ASM being held in Christchurch ended the session on a high note, along with a big thank you to the organising committee for such a well-run and enjoyable conference.

“Rotorua was a superb choice of venue for those of us who made the trip from the Australian mainland, to experience some of the many wonders that New Zealand has to offer. I suspect that many of us are already planning our next trip back.”