Featured Doctor

SCHMIDT, Dr Wesley: WONCA Executive member 2010-2013


Wesley Schmidt was born in USA to American parents who decided to migrate to Paraguay, the heart of South America, when he was barely five years old.

His father was a missionary doctor who developed a program for ambulatory treatment in leprosy, which 60 years later continues to be a model for this and other tropical illnesses in the region. His family was closely related to a large community of Mennonite immigrants to Paraguay, mostly of European and North American origin. Early in the 1800’s these immigrants pioneered and “developed” the Paraguayan wilderness, with great sacrifice, gradually substituting thousands of hectares of rain forest with rich farm and cattle country. Little did they know that this would reduce the forest reserves necessary to sink the carbon excess produced by an ever increasingly industrial world. At the present time, the same community is concerned about the climate change resulting from the combined environmental damage caused by developed countries’ glut and their own disregard for mitigating action relating to these forests.

Wesley’s participation at the plenary on climate change at the WONCA Asia–Pacific conference in Cebu, in 2011, is a reflection of his background in this rural multicultural environment, which has had a great impact on his generalist¬-oriented, environmental interests.After finishing basic medical training in Asuncion, Dr Schmidt was fortunate to complete his family practice residency training at the University of Alabama, where Dr Gail Stephens was the chairman. Her mentoring and that of other legendary giants of family medicine in the United States has served as a guide to most of the medical activities in which Dr Schmidt has been involved during the subsequent 30 years in Paraguay.

In 1981, Dr Schmidt returned to Paraguay, where he was the only residency trained family physician, in an environment increasingly hostile toward generalists who were at that time, considered to be the worst part of the medical profession.

Dr Schmidt was fortunate to have strong support from the administration of the Hospital Bautista of Asuncion, where he was asked to develop a family practice residency program. Wesley’s wife, Esther Martinez, her father and a small number of other Paraguayan generalists helped develop the Paraguayan Society of Family Medicine (PSFM), as well as a three year residency program. They had the support of teachers from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM), and the Department of Family Medicine at the Kansas University School of Medicine in Wichita, where strong ties of exchange and service have marked this entire period. The program found fertile soil at the Bautista, and continues to be the model for some ten family medicine residency programs in the Paraguay.

In the 1980’s, there were very few specialty trained family physicians in Latin America, so it was natural for Dr Julio Ceitlin to make contact with Dr Schmidt to join the small group of visionaries who would develop CIMF (at that time, the Centro Internacional de Medicina Familiar), with headquarters in Buenos Aires. Over the years, this organization has grown into what is now known as the Confederacion Ibero-Americano de Medicina Familiar (CIMF). Dr Schmidt was beaming like a proud father when the group of countries represented by CIMF marched into the convention halls of the WONCA world conference meeting, in Orlando, in 2004.

Dr Schmidt has been fortunate to count on a small group of family medicine teachers who are now working together to provide a family medicine based post-graduate program which reaches all corners of Paraguay by virtual lessons.

In the WONCA World council meeting, in Cancun, 2010, Dr Schmidt was flattered by his appointment as WONCA Executive Member–at–Large, and this has been one of the greatest highlights of his rich career in Family Medicine. His campaign speech centered on the multi-cultural richness of this great organisation, and he drew an applause when he declared in German “zum beischpiel, warum sind unsere deutschen hausaertzte nicht zugegen". 1

Dr Schmidt is determined to utilise his background (he speaks four languages), as a member of WONCA Executive - to make this experience one of learning and sharing experiences that are similar, and always innovative, in the various regions of World WONCA.

1 “For example, why are our German general practitioners not present”