Polaris light shines bright in Tobago


Professional conferences have been considered an effective way to improve knowledge, make connections and build skills. These have also served as personal investments in one’s own professional growth. A particular conference in the idyllic island of Tobago from May 14th to 19th, 2016 was unique in blending the elements needed to engage the local professional body while instilling a sense of community in a wider audience from various countries.

The meeting - hosted by the Caribbean College of Family Physicians’ (CCFP’s) Tobago Chapter - served to combine the island’s annual meeting and the WONCA Polaris Forum. This juxtaposition created a unique partnership between two separate professional bodies and brought out the strengths of each. The host organization was an ideal partner to the Polaris contingent in arranging for the events, hosting the international delegates and ensuring that the visitors enjoyed a flavor of the charming island. With delegates from Chile to the UK - from Venezuela to Spain - Tobago served as a great gathering place for ideas, professional consultations, mentoring and building of friendships. see video

The events in Tobago started with a formal dinner under the patronage of the President of Trinidad and Tobago - His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona. He called for quality health care in both the private and public sectors - noting that our international efforts will help bring out this goal. This event highlighted the importance of political support for family medicine and enjoyed recognition by national news coverage.

Photo: Dr Kathleen Singh (far left), Dr Kyle Hoedebecke (Polaris chair), Dr Maxwell Adeyemi (middle) and the two on the right are the Channel 5 News team.

The following day initiated the CCFP’s technical sessions with a day aimed at improving proper interactions with subspecialists. Common subspecialty pathologies as well as improved multidisciplinary communication were the focus highlighted by subspecialists from across the Caribbean and Europe.

The WONCA Polaris Forum then took place over the next two days where each physician or trainee was not only heavily involved in the discussions, but also had the chance to present to all attendees. Speakers from 3 different continents discussed their unique perspectives and expertise in the international family medicine setting, experiences enriched by the in-depth discussions that followed. Not only did those present in person participate, supporters from all 7 WONCA regions were involved on social media using the hashtag #Polaris16. Specifically, over 200 individuals interacted in the Polaris activities online being transmitted in 20 different languages.

We also did not forget that patients compose a key component of health care. In order to better engage this cohort, Polaris forum attendees and local experts went on the Channel 5 News in Tobago to invite the entire community to attend a medical public forum at the Scarborough Library. During this daylong event, we interacted with patients on topics they felt were important - from tobacco cessation to drug use, sexual health to STIs, and gender violence to medical screening. This encounter emphasized the importance of ensuring our medical knowledge is properly transferred to the patients that we treat.

Finally, the last events of #Polaris16 occurred on World Family Doctor Day (see video), which also happened to be Polaris’ second birthday. The morning started off with an international Zumba class that - in addition to emphasizing the importance of exercise - exemplified how international colleagues can form bonds outside of the workplace. Next, Amber Wheatley - a medical student from the British Virgin Islands - led an international online Rural Cafe that highlighted how the various young doctor movements (YDMs) collaborate together to advocate for this area of of our specialty.

Even though Polaris is the newest YDM, the #Polaris16 forum exemplified how it has quickly risen as a global leader within this cohort. The movement enjoys a great amount of enthusiasm, which has translated into its numerous collaborations, social media interactions, and publications that lead WONCA’s YDMs. With the great successes achieved to date, Polaris aims to continue improving family medicine training and health care delivery in North America, the Caribbean, and beyond! So the only question now is - how do we get YOU involved?

Dr. Kyle Hoedebecke (Chair, Polaris)
Dr. Jorge Hidalgo (Peru/Spain)
Dr. Flor Ledesma (Venezuela)
Dr. Shailendra Prasad (USA)
Dr. Antonio Junco (USA/Spain)
Dr. Katy Germosen (Dominican Republic)
Dr. Mark Ryan (USA)
Dr. Kim Yu (USA)