Featured Doctor


Ireland - family doctor

Tom O'Callahan has been around to be part of family medicine change in Ireland.

What work do you do now?

Keeping close to patients and daily practice I work part time as a family doctor in Dublin providing family medicine to Google staff in their Dublin HQ. I get to hear of their excitement to be working in digital marketing and disruptive technology and their various personal stories and ambitions to improve the world we live in using technology.

Why did you become a doctor?

It was my good fortune to have a wonderful father who was the family doctor for over 50 years to our small rural community. He was full of compassion, humanity and good humour. Witnessing first hand the trust and friendship he had with his patients, the respect in which they held him, and the joy and pleasure he took in helping them and sharing in their lives shaped my ambition to follow in his footsteps and be part of our great profession.

My parents made many personal and financial sacrifices to ensure we had a good education and the Jesuits who taught me very definitely instilled in me the importance of social justice and our personal responsibility to support those less fortunate than ourselves. Where better to help those in need than as a family doctor and have a challenging, impactful and rewarding career?

I studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin where I had my first exposure to fellow medical students from various exotic and far flung parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa. This provided the opportunity to start to understand their different cultures and health systems and how patients are cared for in other parts of the world. This sparked in me the desire to be part of a wider global medical community that could advance healthcare and particularly family medicine in areas of the world where it was needed most. Summer student electives to Africa and Latin America, where I was exposed to medicine in remote rural communities, helped me understand this more. Having completed family medicine residency training I returned to join my father in practice and we had very many happy years working together, caring for our patients and community, and sharing much fun and many stories.

How have you seen Family medicine change in Ireland?

Family medicine has changed and grown in professional status very significantly in Ireland in the last twenty years. There has been a big move towards group practices working from purpose-built primary care centres. Of all the specialties, family medicine was first in Ireland to embrace computerisation and now interprofessional team based care for chronic disease management and task shifting of many hospital based activities to primary care have made family medicine the specialty to be in. There is now clear recognition of the key role family medicine plays in Ireland, not only amongst the community and patients at large but politically and across the medical profession. Our present Taoiseach (Prime Minister) is a young family doctor and we have had a Minister for Primary Care at Government level which has given us a very strong voice when decisions are being made.

Other interesting things you have done?

I have been lucky to be part of this journey over the last 20 years and, with colleagues, have been involved in various national and regional initiatives to improve family medicine and primary care. I’ve worked with the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Health Research Board and University College Cork, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and with Trinity College, Dublin. Specifically I have been involved in various initiatives such as out of hours family medicine co-operative services, building national electronic referral pathways to secondary care, and bringing colleagues together to practice in and establish new purpose-built primary care centres. It has been very exciting to have worked with the Irish College Of General Practitioners on various projects to support colleagues in the Middle East and Asia. Recently I have been part of WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region Expert Advisory Group to support family medicine capacity building in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries and the wider Middle Eastern Region.

At policy level I have been involved in shaping family medicine and primary care development in Ireland by providing advice to a number of health Ministers on rolling out primary care centres and have represented family medicine research capacity building on the national health research agenda.

A number of years ago I set up an online medical education organisation, supported by the Irish Government, to design develop and deliver online and blended education programmes for Ministries and Governments around the world. Our ambition in iheed is to help build primary care capacity where it is needed most by delivering programmes in partnership with leading medical universities and postgraduate training bodies around the world. We are now a growing team of passionate and committed professionals across various disciplines of technology, medical education, instructional design, digital marketing and research, based in Dublin, and we are having an impact in many countries with our various postgraduate programmes. It is wonderful to hear the feedback from family doctors in various countries who have successfully completed a programme we helped design, develop, and deliver which allowed them to gain new skills and a university qualification, while staying in the workplace caring for their patients and not having to travel abroad.

And your personal interests?

My interest in the outdoors and mountaineering has taken me on expeditions to many remote parts of the world to climb with friends and to meet many remote mountain communities. I have been involved in mountain rescue groups here in Ireland and in teaching expedition and high altitude medicine at Irish Universities.

Liz, my wife, is a sports physio and we have three children - Anna, George and Patrick. We live on a farm in rural Tipperary which, as the song says, is a long way from many of my WONCA colleagues!!