Featured Doctor



Dr Garth Manning has been WONCA CEO for more than five years now, and he’s going to be around for a bit longer as Executive has extended his contract through to the end of 2020. Garth is a family doctor and has had an interesting and multifaceted career so it’s high time he was a WONCA featured doctor so we can all find out more about him!

What have you done in your working life?

My first career - GP and the Military

It’s quite difficult to know where to start, as I’ve been fortunate to have had a very varied and interesting medical career (proof that as family doctors we have many options open to us). I was a doctor in the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF), and actually intended to be an anaesthetist, but we had to do a compulsory period of general practice. I realised after about three weeks that this was what I really wanted to do, and so was accepted onto the RAF’s GP Training Scheme. Having completed my GP training (and a few other things along the way), I then undertook a full time seven-month course in aviation medicine, so I also have an occupational medicine qualification (more of that later).

Straight after that, I completed my qualification as a GP trainer which enabled me to work as a GP trainer, at two different practices - one in UK and one in Cyprus!

On my return to the UK, I was very fortunate to be posted to take over the running of the military air ambulance system. We transported around 1,500 patients each year from all over the globe, and I had teams of nurses and paramedics to dispatch as needed. This was normally a two-year post, but I managed to stay for over three years in what was possibly the best job I ever had. At the end of this time I decided to leave the RAF, as career options were becoming more limited due to defence cuts. I then went into international development – and that’s when my second career started.

My second career- International Times

For my first inroads into international work, I reverted to my aeromedical evacuation career, and was employed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and sent to former Yugoslavia (both Croatia and Bosnia) to work with teams on the evacuation of civilian casualties from Bosnia. I spent various spells living and working in Sarajevo during the siege – a fascinating (if at times scary) experience. I also undertook a training needs analysis for IOM in Russia, and was then contracted to develop and deliver a training programme there.

I then returned to my first love of GP/family medicine. I was part of a team funded by the European Union (EU) to undertake some PHC development in Poland, and I lived in Warsaw, on and off, for around nine months. From there it was on to Hungary to lead an 18-month project on family medicine training and development. One of the consultants on the project was a certain Professor Chris van Weel, and we have remained firm friends ever since. Then back to Bosnia – this time after the Dayton Agreement - firstly as a PHC consultant on a health financing project and then as Team Leader on a PHC and Human Resource Development project, again funded by the EU.

A complete change of scene after Bosnia, as I then took over as team leader on a medical education project in Bangladesh, and I lived in Dhaka, on and off, for four years. This started my close association with South Asia, and even today I feel so at home in all the countries of the region.

At the same time as all of this was going on, the Royal College of GPs (UK) established a post of Medical Director for International Development Programmes. I was lucky enough to be appointed, and remained in post for almost 14 years, before becoming WONCA CEO.

I also undertook a variety of independent consultancy work, the most fun of which was as the aeromedical GP for a peacekeeping mission in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. I did a number of missions there, of anything between 6 and 12 weeks.

My job in theory was to evacuate ill or injured peacekeepers from distant outposts, but also being allowed to do compassionate evacuations of locals when the situation demanded. (pictured) Cases such as an elderly woman hit by a falling coconut palm, or a man attacked by an alligator in a swamp, were all part of life’s rich patterns, and I had to keep reminding myself, as we flew over the islands in a helicopter, that I was actually being paid to do this work!

With such a long list of achievements what is most memorable?

During my time with RCGP, I worked and travelled in many countries of the world, promoting family medicine, and was also fortunate to be involved, along with my great friend Prof Val Wass, in establishing the MRCGP[INT] exam for South Asia. That is probably the thing that I’m most proud of in my medical career. Other memorable events have been as Margaret Thatcher’s physician for the day and following her around when she visited our base in Germany. I fulfilled the same role many years later for Kevin Rudd, the then-Australian Prime Minster, when he visited Solomon Islands in 2008. Also very memorable was that I led the UK medical teams who retrieved some of the British hostages from the Middle East – both Jackie Mann and Terry Waite.

Now about WONCA?

My first involvement with WONCA – like Karen Flegg (our editor who suggested this profile!) – was the 1998 Dublin World Conference when we brought a group of Bosnian colleagues, from our health financing project, to take part. I missed Durban in 2001, but otherwise have been to every world conference – and almost all WONCA Europe meetings – ever since.

WONCA’s a great organisation, and I am very privileged to be guiding it as CEO under the direction of a series of inspiring Executive members and Presidents. There are so many things we’d love to be able to do, if only we had more resources, but one of the things I’ve been pleased about is that the finances are in a much stronger situation than when I first took over. Four consecutive years of surplus budgets have meant that the organisation is in a much stronger financial position for the future. I have made so many wonderful fries over the years, through WONCA contacts, and am especially inspired by our fantastic young doctors, who are proof that our profession is in good hands for the future

I’m delighted that my term as CEO has been extended through to the end of 2020, to support Donald Li in his Presidency, before I move into well-earned ‘retirement’.

What might you do if you ever stop working for WONCA?

In pre-WONCA days I used to enjoy flying (I have a Private Pilot’s License) but I am sadly very out of practice. Luckily I love travel, and would love to have more time to actually spend quality time in some of my favourite places.

I’d also like to go back to university, if only to keep my brain engaged and exercised. Nothing to do with medicine, but I’d love to consider a degree in history (which, perversely, I hated at school!). It will also be fun to live full time in our lovely new(ish) house which Monica has built and furnished in my absence.

So much to look forward to, but not for quite a few years yet!