From the President: June 2017

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Since I last wrote, we have had the WONCA Rural Conference in Cairns Australia, the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and World Family Doctor Day. We have also continued the work of Executive in the different regions, seen some new members (welcome, College of Indonesian Primary Care Physicians, to the WONCA family!), and had news from many different areas of new and exciting developments in family medicine. Our member at large, Dr Viviana Martinez Bianchi, was a co-host of a major policy summit on the important topic of health equity, also attended by our past President Prof. Michael Kidd – well done Vivi, and we look forward to a report from this meeting, as it will no doubt inform our thinking on this key area of our work.

The Rural conference was a wonderful event, attended by delegates from more than 30 countries.

Australia has a strong tradition of attempting to address its rural and remote workforce challenges in a systematic way, through specific training programmes and incentive schemes. Much of the discussion focussed on how a country could secure a thriving workforce for its rural communities. Strategies for selection, appropriate training, improving status and recognition, financial and contract options, and ongoing professional and personal support to retain people in rural practice, were all seen as ways to meet this challenge. A six day programme of conference activities, policy debates, clinic visits, and formal Working Party business meetings kept us all busy and immensely stimulated.

Photo: Amanda Howe (right) with midwives on clinc visit.

Highlights for me included visiting colleagues in two different clinics – one on Horn Island off the North East coast of Australia, and an Aboriginal Community and Health Clinic at Yarrabah near Cairns. Both emphasised the need to prioritise community engagement as a way of redressing the impacts of social disadvantage and improving public health: and showed me (again) the importance of family doctors who can work in a setting where they are both part of the community and may be surgeon, obstetrician and emergency care providers - as well as the community’s family doctor.

Photo: Yarraba community notice board

Such extended scope can be challenging if people are not prepared for it – so the theme of ‘start early and get ahead’ was one that ran through the conference. It was therefore particularly wonderful to be present for the launch of the ‘WONCA Rural Seeds’ movement – the first named WONCA initiative to focus on medical students, and already bringing young people with an interest in rural and remote family practice together for change. Ably led by Mayara Floss and Veronika Rasic at the conference, we look forward to helping them mobilise new interest and members. Prof Val Wass was at the conference too, and has already put a priority focus on medical students into the WONCA Working Party on Education’s programme for this biennium: and I spoke at the International Medical Student Association preconference in Geneva in May. So WONCA’s strong focus on Young Doctor Movements should now extend to medical students – let’s work on this one together. My thanks go to John Wynn Jones, Bruce Chater, and the many members of the WWPRP – both longstanding and new – who made this conference a fantastic event.

Photo: Amanda Howe speaking at the conference.

At the time of writing this column, we have not yet been to Geneva, but the schedule for our advocacy and networking at the World Health Assembly looks predictably busy. This will be the first time our President Elect Dr Donald Li, and Dr Viviana Martinez Bianchi as WHO liaison lead for WONCA Executive have attended, so we shall enjoy briefing them and seeing them orientated to this important occasion. I shall report in full in my next column, when we shall also know who will succeed Dr Margaret Chan: let us hope they will be as encouraging of family medicine as she has been! As always, I wish you well, and thank you for your hard work.
Amanda Howe, President, WONCA.