From the President: May 2023

Family Doctors Are The Heart Of Health Care

That is a meaningful slogan to delve into on this year’s World Family Doctor Day! (FDD) For one thing, it implies a rarely mentioned truth about our profession: Our own hearts are among those that are being nourished by our work with Health Care. Our job has a profound impact on us as human beings. Think what a privilege it is to know we’ve made a genuine difference in other people`s lives. As we experience our patients’ trust, we grow in our capacity – and our determination – to be deserving of it.

That helps explain the standing ovation that greeted WONCA President Professor Chris van Weel’s announcement declaring that very day, May 19th, 2010, to be the first Annual Family Doctor Day (FDD). I remember it so well. The WONCA World Conference that year took place in Cancun, Mexico, at the time when many parts of the world, including Mexico, had just come through the swine flu epidemic. We experienced President Weel’s message as WONCA’s acknowledgement that the Primary Care treatment and disease prevention we Family Doctors had provided had made a difference. That warmed our hearts, our hard-working, tired hearts. The May 19th Family Doctor Day is now an annual event, globally. The celebrations around the world reflect the remarkable diversity of our communities’ needs and their local cultures. You can enjoy the regional reports from last year`s celebration HERE.

We doctors are certainly well-educated and knowledgeable. But we can’t be good clinicians unless our hearts are in our work. Many or even most patients recognize quickly which doctors have their hearts in the right place; they react to that more than we may realize!
Just as our patients need their Family Doctors’ heartfelt care, so do those of us who are caring for them. A dedicated FDD inspires us to let our hearts go out also to each other – our far-flung colleagues, living and working in a stunning variety of contexts. I’m thinking in particular now of those of us who confront extremely difficult conditions, such as during and after armed conflicts and natural catastrophes. The demanding and often lonely work of carrying other people’s pain takes a toll, making the human need for solidarity and companionship an inevitable aspect of our profession. It becomes particularly heartrending when that need remains unmet in times of conflict and uncertainty.

For me, receiving support from colleagues has a unique effect. That’s the case with explicit support, spelled out in words, and the implicit support that underlies our professional brothers’ and sisters’ active assistance. Also, subtle support, such as in the heartfelt warmth we hear in a colleague’s voice, can remind us that we’re not alone in this massive and vital task.

Remember to share our FDD with our Primary Care team partners. Health Care is inclusive and collaborative teamwork. Think a moment: which of your colleagues could use someone to ask them, now: “How are you doing?” We can dare to extend the warmth of our hearts to our colleagues while they’re striving to warm the hearts of their suffering communities. I say “dare” because, unfortunately, just the thought of speaking from the heart may trigger obstructive shyness.

It's much easier to get past that nowadays. For one thing, we don’t have to travel to reach out to colleagues who could use a dose of collegial heart warming. Check out the promotional materials worked out by WONCA`s Communication Officer, Maria Zavala. They are written in a shared language of mutual support.

By uniting our hearts, FDD also strengthens the bonds at the core of our organization, further empowering us to fulfill WONCA`s mission: A Family Doctor for every individual and every family, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation.

We can benefit from using May 19th FDD as an opportunity to contact those outside our profession as well – such as politicians and policy makers. (Don’t ever doubt that they too have heavy hearts at times!) Tell them loud and clear, from your heart to theirs, that the following is not just a nice idea of ours but rather a well-documented fact: Every country in the world will need more Family Doctors in the coming years if we hope to meet the global population’s health requirements. It would be heartbreaking were we to recognize that too late. We can use FDD to underline the urgency by highlighting the evidence on which the fact is based.

Let’s Celebrate this Family Doctors Day! Let our hearts sing out so the world hears, and we remember, just how much we value our profession – our work, our patients, and our colleagues. We’re glad to continue putting our hearts AND minds to work to ensure that each and every person has unobstructed access to quality health services.

The week following FDD, the WONCA delegation goes to Geneva for WHO’s World Health Assembly. We aim to bring Family Medicine to the foreground of the global health policy dialogue. Because health is a fundamental need and everyone’s right – unmitigated by either geopolitical boundaries or lines of conflict – our FDD can help us champion international solidarity.

We carry with us the inspiring and heartfelt support of our WONCA members!

Dr Anna Stavdal, 
WONCA President