Yvonne van Leeuwen (1951-2019)
Vasco da Gama Movement founder

May, 2019

“The new generations of family doctors will hopefully enjoy their work as a GP as much as I have done. I hope that future Vasco da Gama GPs and trainees will promote general practice as the jewel of health care in front of political and social audiences."
Yvonne van Leeuwen, GP, PhD – the Netherlands

The month of May came with a sad message – our friend and colleague Yvonne van Leeuwen passed away. Almost three years after Fons Sips´ death our souls are in tears. Together with Fons and Justin Allen, Yvonne was one of the Vasco da Gama Movement’s first senior advisors. She was there since the beginning, witnessing and supporting her junior colleagues, and creating a unique organisation from a shared dream.

We always think our heroes are immortal. And they are. Their physical departure is mourned but, at the same time, we celebrate the life of a prodigious human being with a strange happiness. In every moment Yvonne had a right thought to share, a bright idea to move on, and a special word of inspiration. She was an exceptional person with a great soul. We will always remember her smile and wisdom, inviting all of us to reflect before acting. Her knowledge and friendship made the VdGM journey happier and fruitful. And made each of us a better person and family physician.

She was a prodigious teacher with a strong motto – “Education should be passion based”. Yvonne started her academic pathway at Groningen University where she studied Medicine. In 1981 she started working at the Educational Department of Maastricht University, the newest medical faculty in the Netherlands, and started her GP vocational training. In 1995 Yvonne successfully defended her PhD thesis “Growth in knowledge of trainees in general practice: figures on facts”, thereby introducing the first knowledge test for GP trainees in the Netherlands, and building the foundation for knowledge tests that still exist nowadays. For more than 30 years she combined working at the University with running a general practice.

In the period of the foundation of the VdGM, Yvonne was head of the Maastricht GP training department standing in that position from 1998 to 2005. She was a strong supporter for exchange of ideas and knowledge across borders.

For many years, she was a dedicated group facilitator in the VdGM preconferences and she was a reliable and inspirational mentor to the movement. Yvonne strongly urged GP trainees to become active members and advocates of the communities they served. In WONCA, she also joined EURACT to contribute to the improvement of GP training standards in Europe.

Yvonne was very eager to learn, not just in Medicine. She had also studied Theology and Cultural Sciences. She gave lessons on Ethics. She was a true, inspirational teacher and even at her own memorial service she provided a take home message: “the purpose of life is to add value to that of others”. She sure did.

Yvonne, we already miss you but your bright knowledge is eternal and will always be part of us. Our sympathy is with her beloved sister Ingrid, her nieces and family, friends and colleagues.

Ingrid van der Heijden (the Netherlands)
Joao Sequeira Carlos (Portugal)
VdGM founder members

Photo: 2007 Yvonne left with VdGM executive