From the President: Behind the scenes

Photo: Audience interaction in Rio - Past Presidents Chris van Weel (left) and Göran Sjönell (right) in the front row.

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Life as the new President has been quiet geographically but busy online. There is an odd tension between leadership and service, where the responsibility to ‘keep moving and improving’ is set against the ordinary repetitions of daily life. In fact, as family doctors our most important work is that which we do again and again, in our consulting rooms and clinics, with patients and colleagues – or with our students and residents, helping them to gain knowledge and skills in small steps that build to a whole.

So as I have sat with my laptop, surrounded by half-packed Christmas presents, or piles of post-vacation washing, I have tried to balance the need to think big and keep the momentum of Rio going, with a respect for the things that need revisiting and refreshing. I have read the ideas and developments coming in after Rio from our regional Presidents, our Working Parties and SIGs, and many others with new and exciting ideas that can take family medicine forward, in spite of the barriers we sometimes face. I have been to two retirement parties, and seen both patients and doctors weep as they marked the end of a long period of mutual caring and support through various challenges. And I have read a pile of medical journals – moved a couple of articles through to publication – filled in some of my electronic files for my upcoming appraisal – helped two of my postgraduate students develop their research proposals for Masters and PhD – and talked with friends, about the problems facing my own country, and many others.

Photo: Amanda Howe initiated a small group discussion on membership as part of the WONCA World Council meeting.

Soon the external advocacy and travel starts again. We are already putting together the programme for our next visit to WHO in two weeks time, and formulating statements through which we hope both to make our priorities known and to influence thinking around key issues such as the medical workforce (more family doctors!) and migrant health. I am also going to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting on ‘The Future of Health’ in Paris, which no doubt will be full of wise words but will, I hope, lead to some new collaborations for action on the primary health care workforce.

WONCA conferences begin again soon, with the East Mediterranean region congress in early March. Our India member organization holds its conference in three weeks’ time (the CEO will attend their national meeting), and I shall be a keynote speaker at the prestigious ‘Towards Unity for Health’ conference in April, and the diary is already filling up with other meetings later in the year.
My priorities (thought leadership, membership engagement, building the family doctor workforce, equity) are being actively pursued – this month’s newsletter also features our first ‘guest’ policy bite, from the Besrour Center in Canada, and this will be followed by contributions from the UK’s Royal College of GPs, then the Robert Graham centre in the USA.

Photo: Amanda speaking on leadership in Rio

We have our first WONCA executive meeting in late March, where we shall pick up the important theme of helping each region to link effectively with their members, and (perhaps as important) help those countries where family medicine is not yet strong enough to have a presence in WONCA. And we all need to keep vigilant about resources and government strategies – each of us being a leader at whatever level we can, speaking up for those whose needs cannot be met without change and funding, and being alert to factors that can strengthen or weaken family medicine.

The stepping stones to success are through good practice which is accessible and affordable to all who need them; better training and teaching opportunities; and positive workforce initiatives that help make sure that family doctors are available to all communities, including poorer and more distant communities where it can be hard to work. I am proud of our work, and look forward to hearing, and seeing, more of you in 2017.

Stay well.
Amanda Howe