From the President: Keeping it in the (WONCA) family

Past Presidents Michael Kidd, Chris Van Weel and Rich Roberts - still working for WONCA

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At each World Council meeting we elect a new Executive to undertake the work of the organisation for the following term. Historically that term was three years, until Council voted to reduce it to a two-year term at its meeting in 2013. WONCA is well served with enthusiastic and active members, ranging from our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups (SIGs), to our higher profile roles in Executive. Executive consists of seven Regional Presidents, three Members at Large, President-Elect, President and CEO.

As President-Elect, I had two years in which to plan how I wanted my presidency to look and to decide how it should operate. I realised very early in the process, that WONCA is truly blessed with the range and depth of knowledge within the organisation. There is a huge amount of institutional knowledge and expertise among those who have been Presidents in the past, and those who have served on WONCA Executive. There is a risk that once a person finishes their time on Executive, they could fade into the background. I wanted to harness those skills and that enthusiasm to help raise WONCA’s profile globally so that we can influence at the highest levels on behalf of family medicine. As Michael Kidd once said “WONCA is a big tent and there’s room for everyone inside”. I knew we needed to capitalise on that talent which would contribute to our growth and sustainability.

On ‘Day 1’ of my presidency I grasped the opportunity to establish a Past Presidents’ Advisory Group, to which we can turn for advice and guidance, should we need it. In addition to the advice and guidance, members of the Past Presidents’ Advisory Group continue to provide important technical and legal inputs into the work of WONCA. This includes, for example, Chris van Weel as Co-Chair of the International Scientific Committee for the Abu Dhabi World Conference, in 2020. Rich Roberts, Michael Kidd and Amanda Howe are members of the same International Scientific Committee. Rich Roberts is helping to pilot the WONCA practice accreditation programme. Michael Kidd continues to raise WONCA’s profile at WHO in a number of ways and, of course, the Department of Family Medicine in Toronto that he leads has become the first WHO Collaborating Centre on primary care. Michael, through his ongoing collaboration with WHO EMRO, has contributed to a number of joint WONCA-WHO publications, the latest of which is on family practice in Eastern Mediterranean region. Amanda Howe, along with colleagues Felicity Goodyear-Smith and Bob Mash (pictured together in Seoul in 2018), represents WONCA in our research work with Ariadne Labs.

In recognition of the exponential growth in our work and liaison with WHO, also on ‘Day 1’ of my presidency I established a WHO Advisory Group, made up of a range of people including Past Presidents Michael Kidd and Amanda Howe; our CEO, Garth Manning; President-Elect, Anna Stavdal; former Exectuive member, Ruth Wilson; former WONCA-WHO liaison, Luisa Pettigrew; and our current, extremely active, WONCA-WHO liaison, Viviana Martinez-Bianchi. This small group advises on issues such as WONCA’s priorities for the WHO Executive Board and World Health Assembly, as well as policy issues which WONCA is well placed to comment on. Working together and as individuals on behalf of WONCA, we are in a better position to address the many requests from WHO for inputs. We can also highlight issues which we need to involve ourselves in, such as the importance of inclusion of family doctors in workforce planning for primary care delivery, disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness, environmental health and, not least, digital health.

Of course, while I fully appreciate the experience of those who have served WONCA well over the years and welcome their inputs to our ongoing work, I also want to support and help strengthen the work of the Young Doctors’ Movement – and the increasing inclusion of their medical student colleagues from IFMSA. The young doctors are the future of family medicine. Their views – and especially their energy and enthusiasm - are crucial to our growth. This is why we strongly encourage the inclusion of a young doctor representative in every Working Party and SIG and in every regional Executive.

It is always sad to see a family member leave, but one of the jobs being undertaken by our WONCA Executive is the search for a new CEO. Garth took up his post in October 2012. He had indicated his intention to retire at the end of 2018, at the WONCA World conference in Seoul but, after some negotiation at home, he graciously agreed to stay on to support me in my Presidency. I am delighted and relieved that he did so and he will remain in post until very early in 2021. Along with the Secretariat, Garth has helped shaped WONCA in readiness for the future and has helped ensure that our finances are on a better footing, to allow us to do the work we need to do. In anticipation of Garth retiring the ‘CEO Search Team’ (led by our President-Elect, Anna Stavdal, and utilising expertise of past Executive members Job Metsemakers and Ruth Wilson) has been working to develop a person profile and job description for the new CEO. WONCA members will see the position of CEO advertised soon in WONCA News. In order to ensure good governance and as smooth a handover as possible, it is intended to appoint someone to the position of CEO for a period of overlap, working with Garth and the Secretariat team, before taking over full time. And so, another member of the WONCA family will join us. It’s unlikely that retirement will see the end of Garth’s involvement with WONCA! He may chose to spend a bit of time in the house he built in Belfast, but we fully expect to welcome him to WONCA events in the future.

We’re a big – and growing - family in WONCA. We’ve each got our own personalities and preferences. Through respect for one another, a strong sense of continuity, and a belief in the same global goals, we are a strong family. The WONCA family is growing, from strength to strength.

Donald Li
WONCA President