Proud to call myself a Vasco da Gamian.

Dr Deirdre Kelly a fourth year GP registrar on the Ballinasloe GP training scheme, in Ireland, writes on why she's proud to call herself a Vasco da Gamian after attending the recent Vasco da Gama forum in Dublin.

I attended the second Vasco da Gama Movement forum on the weekend of Feb 20 and 21. My aim was to present my research project. Little did I realise that it was going to change my entire perception of my career in the future as well as enabling a rediscovery of passion for general practice. The Vasco da Gama Movement as you know is the WONCA Europe movement for newly qualified GPs and GP trainees.

The forum, entitled ‘Family Medicine 2.0, Innovation and Awareness’ took place in Dublin. I began my day by joining in the ‘Mindfulness’ session run by Drs Ming Rawat and Paula Martin. These wonderful ladies began the session by enquiring as to what nationalities were in the room. I was startled to see that there was well over twenty nationalities. In the 45 minute session Ming and Paula presented an excellent picture of mindfulness including the history and beneficial uses both for us and our patients. Paula mentioned you can look at the chocolate cake, you can read about the chocolate cake, you can study the recipe in detail but you need to taste it to gain the real experience. And we did just that with mindfulness. A marvellous experience.

I brought my new found sense of calm with me to the first plenary session. This focused on the impact the economic crisis has had on Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. A GP from each country spoke for five minutes on the impact. I realised that I’ve been so caught up in the Irish GP struggle that I hadn’t considered that GPs across Europe might be struggling also – and in some cases worse off.

Next came participation in a workshop on domestic violence. My group included doctors from Turkey, Netherlands, France, Portugal and Denmark. Again I was witness that while laws may differ from country to country, we are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ despite our differing nationalities.

The results of the ‘Design Thinking’ workshop were delivered to us in the form of role plays. There was clearly a lot of fun doing these role plays and at the same time dealing with genuine dilemmas in general practice - for example how to encourage GPs to set up a rural practice. I learnt from this that European GPs are incredibly creative when given the right platform.

Summary video made by Ulrik Kirk (under 3 minutes)

Following this the plenary session on ‘Innovation and Awareness’ began. Eight presenters with five minutes each were able to somehow inspire the entire audience. Topics varied from patient orientated medicine to using technology; to overcoming physical disability to e-learning, each pair of speakers offered inspiring ideas and experiences. The future of general practice is bright. One talk demonstrated the powerful combination of clinical practice with technology. This pairing has helped patients in India use online consultations between their local doctor and specialists situated hundreds of miles away to work together thereby avoiding the arduous trek to the tertiary centre. Dr Tom O’ Callaghan has set up ‘iheed’ – teaching online tutorials to medical students in Africa. There are approximately 140,000 doctors for a European population of one billion. Africa has 10,000 doctors for a population of approx. the same population. As the saying goes ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. This is what Dr O’Callaghan has done in terms of improving the number of doctors in Africa. And he’s looking for recruits!

Caroline Carswell is a deaf woman who described beautifully about hearing the birds for the first time following a cochlear implant. What an awakening.

The incredible ‘Innovation and Awareness’ session was followed by a further plenary on the future of general practice, the Vasco da Gama Movement and WONCA. We could all sense that morale was low across Europe – especially after the plenary on the impact of the Economic Crisis. But, the future is bright – we just need to know how to make it bright. As Peter Sloane pointed out it involves a seismic shift in attitude – we need to first and foremost have a positive attitude.

There are approximately 80,000 GPs and family physicians across Europe. We have the potential to speak loudly on behalf of our patients. But we need to come together to succeed. As young GPs we need to join Vasco da Gama. We’re a family of family doctors representing an entire continent. Whining and complaining to each other is futile. We need to get the attention of policy makers and governments. We need to emphasise global health. If we learn how systems work we can use them to our advantage and implement positive change. We are a large group and can have a powerfully loud voice if we know how to funnel it. There is strength in numbers. As Dr Anna Stavdal, Vice President of WONCA Europe pointed out on the plenary panel “patients don’t change.” We deal with their issues regardless of resources or pay/funding. At the end of the day the patient is still in front of you. We need to seek assistance from them to empower the system and fight the fight.

What can I say but I drove home from the conference on a high. I’m empowered. I’m proud to be a general practitioner in Ireland, and in Europe. I’m proud to be a Vasco da Gamian. Get involved. Take on the challenge. Have confidence. We need to join together and grow Vasco da Gama so we can become stronger.

The question shouldn’t be “are you going to the conference next year?” but ‘Why are you NOT going to Vasco da Gama conference next year.” As Dr Tom O’Callaghan put it: “Only dead fish go with the flow.”

Deirdre Kelly