Vasco da Gama presidential handover - Reflections

Reflections from Peter Sloane (left), VdGM President as he finishes his time in the role and hands over to Claire Marie Thomas (right)

Having had the huge privilege to serve as President of the Vasco da Gama Movement for two and a half years, it gives me a deep sense of pride to look back on what was an extremely challenging and exciting period, but ultimately one which proved to be tremendously rewarding, engaging, stimulating and invigorating. A time I will never forget.

It is an exceptional honour to be elected by one’s peers to serve in a role such as President, and having a team of professional, dedicated and enthusiastic colleagues to work with in representing young European GPs was of crucial importance. In July 2014, following my election at WONCA Lisbon, I found myself with very big shoes to fill, having taken over from Harris Lygidakis (who has since gone on to bigger and better things as Secretary of WONCA Europe). Harris had proven to be an inspirational leader and tough act to follow. However, for my entire term as President I was fortuitous in having amazingly enthusiastic and talented Executive and Council colleagues to work with. I owe a debt of gratitude to them all.

At the outset of my term I did have a vision of what I wanted to achieve with VdGM. One very important goal was parity of esteem as a full Network within WONCA Europe. By personally getting onto the stage of WONCA Europe Conferences, engaging more closely with the other Network Leads, and by promoting and supporting closer ties and collaboration between us, this important aspiration became a reality at WONCA Istanbul in October 2015.

Signing the “Lisbon Declaration”, July 2014. (left to right, João Sequeira Carlos, Job Metsemakers, Peter A Sloane)

In February 2014, the vision of a previous VdGM Executive came to fruition with the First VdGM Forum taking place in Barcelona. On taking office I wanted to ensure that this standalone unique event was bedded down. It was therefore deeply satisfying that at the end of my term of office, plans are in place for the fifth Forum to take place in Porto in early 2019. Not only that, but I am proud that during my tenure, VdGM developed the expertise, cultural knowledge, and experience, to deliver high quality educational and scientific meetings at extremely low cost; perhaps this expertise is something that WONCA as an organisation could and should harness.

The VdGM Executive hard at work in Dublin (August 2014) planning for the Second VdGM Forum which would take palce in Dublin in February 2015.

Enhanced collaboration with the other WONCA Europe Networks and WONCA SIGs was another ambition, and although progress was certainly made, perhaps not as much as I had hoped. This most likely reflects the alturistic nature of everyone involved in VdGM and that there simply isn’t enough time to achieve all that is desired! This activity came under the banner of the VdGM Beyond Europe Group. Perhaps one of the achivements of which I am most proud and yet may be least well known is that during my term and with my very personal support and encouragement, a VdGM Interest Group in Mental Health was established; this is an often forgotten yet extremely important area for Family Doctors and I am delighted that the group is going from strength to strength more than two years after its establishment.

Research and education are core components of VdGM activity and during my tenure we aimed to increase this. Ultimately, this manifested with 26 workshops, seminars and presentations being delivered under the VdGM banner at WONCA Copenhagen. Alongside this, I was delighted that during my two and half years, the Exchange Programme that is again at the heart of VdGM went from strength to strength. VdGM was also at the forefront of Social Media developments in WONCA, and I had the great privilege to write the foreward for a collaborative Social Media ePDF, “The Vasco da Gama Movement Compass: Navigating the Sea of Soci@l Media”. We were particularly proud that in late 2015 Michael Kidd shared this guide with the United Nations High Level Panel on Health Technologies!

Two new VdGM Prizes were created during my Presidency, the “Being Young Staying Young Award”, and the “Fons Sips Outstanding Achievement Award”, the second being in memory of Fons Sips, one of the founding fathers of VdGM who sadly died in mid 2016. By creating an award in his honour I feel that his crucial role in the birth of VdGM will not be forgotten.

The VdGM Preconference, Copenhagen, June 2016.

Other highlights of my term of office were the first meeting of the Global YDM Leads that took place in Istanbul, and my personal interactions with inspirational Mentors such as Michael Kidd, Amanda Howe, Job Metsemakers, Anna Stavdal and Per Kallestrup.

However, the singular most rewarding, humbling and awe-inspiring aspect of my time in office was that I got to meet many 100s and 1000s of New and Future Family Doctors from Europe and all over the world. In the the work they do, the contribution they make, and the passion, determination, drive and enthusiasm they display for Family Medicine they made me feel rather inadequate as I strove to do my best to represent their intersts, aspirations, goals and dreams within WONCA. They made my job easy, made it a privilege, honour and an experience I will never forget. To each and every one of you, and to all the colleagues I met along the way, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and leave you with an old Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May (your) God hold you in the palm of His hand.

by Dr Peter A Sloane, President, the Vasco da Gama Movement (July 2014 to December 2016)
Carraroe, Galway, Ireland, January 2017
My New Rural Single Handed Family Practice!