Reflections on being WONCA President - Amanda Howe

September, 2019

Amanda Howe, WONCA Immediate Past President, comes to the end of six years on WONCA Executive this coming month. WONCA thanks her for the huge voluntary commitment this represents. Here she reflects on this period of her life.

It was my honour to follow Prof Michael Kidd as WONCA President from 2016–2018 - the first woman President. I shall finish my six years of service on WONCA Executive this October. This short article reflects on how this happened to me in my career as a family doctor, and what others may learn from this. I also say – thank you! And let us all keep up our good work for family medicine.

Photo: Flashback to WONCA News December 2016 - Amanda Howe received  the presidential chain from Michael Kidd in Rio in November 2016

Many, especially younger GPs, are curious as to how leaders emerge from the core business of being a family doctor. My personal analysis is that I was always both passionate about health care, and I worked hard to learn and practise the necessary clinical skills to be truly competent. I delivered for my various colleagues, patients and friends; and thus became known as a ‘good doctor’, who was reliable, responsible, concerned - and motivated to go further.

I was driven by the desire to improve the status of family medicine as a speciality, and to change the way students and postgraduates were taught – which in my day, was at the laboratory and bedside, not in the community with people. I also got engaged with wider networks because these were necessary partners in my two key missions: so the medical school, the local health and civil authorities; other family medicine clinics; and our national WONCA member organisation, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), of which I have been a member since 1983!

This wider involvement led to me starting to be invited to help, for example, with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) events, becoming a trainer and a CPD tutor, and beginning to learn some leadership skills outside the clinic itself. These networks were also key to offering me new opportunities – it was actually an RCGP staff member who sent me an advertisement that invited GPs to start teaching on campus. My practice supported my application – we were desperate to influence the undergraduate students. This led to my becoming an academic, sitting on University and regulatory committees, national involvement in medical education reform, and with RCGP, Society for Academic Primary Care, and the World Organization of Family Doctors. Same dynamic – my passion for change and growth of general practice; being given opportunities by others for example, to chair the RCGP Research Committee; encouragement to stand for elections and finding that what I delivered was (broadly) what others seemed to need and want.

Photo: Flashback to WONCA News September 2017 - Amanda with residents, staff, Joy Mugambi (next to Amanda) and ministry representatives at the Aga Khan University in Dar es Salaam.

So my ‘strapline’ is: work hard and deliver; stay with your heart as well as using your head; get involved with broader networks where life permits; don’t try to do too much at the same time; and WONCA and your national member organisations are great places to network and develop a broader vision.

Looking back on my involvement with WONCA, both in the Working Party on Women in Family Medicine (WWPWFM) and on WONCA Executive, I would like to thank all those who worked with me; including many of you who hosted me in your countries, whether for conferences or national visits. It was an enormous privilege to see the success of so many members and their teams. Everywhere I went, I met good people trying to make a real difference through working as family doctors – I shall continue to glory in that, want to tell you the effort is worth it (it is!). I know we shall all continue to learn from each other what is needed to address the bigger picture.

Photo: Flashback to WONCA News March 2018 - Amanda Howe at the Vasco da Gama forum in Porto with (l to r) Candan Kendir, Süheyla Atalay, Tuğba Onat.

We do need to achieve universal health coverage with a true comprehensive primary care package, and engage with the upstream work on what makes people ill in the first place - including poverty, exclusion, adverse life events, and climate change. The work through WHO is important both for building the status of our discipline, and for this work at health systems level. I congratulate WONCA and its Member Organizations, such as the RCGP, for making firm commitments to this.

I wish all those in current and future WONCA work well: I am still here for you.
Thank you.
Prof Amanda Howe