FPs' Talents, Skills Are Needed Now More Than Ever All Around the World
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Their clothing was different. Their cultures and customs were unique. Their practice settings varied. And their languages were numerous.
Yet regardless of what language was being spoken by
the roughly 4,000 family physicians gathered from around the globe for the
recent World Conference of the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) in
Prague, Czech Republic, somehow the stories of these family
physicians seemed familiar.
Health care systems, economics and geography may dictate much of the scope or nature of the kinds of services that family physicians provide around the world, from providing high level surgical trauma care in remote parts of Australia, to making rounds barefoot in the mountains of Uzbekistan.
But one thing we all have in common is our practices center on our relationships with patients and the intimate conversations that make such a difference in their lives and their health.
WONCA provided a fantastic opportunity to step back and gain a new perspective on health care around the world by talking with family physicians and learning from their experiences in their own countries. The two-way exchange was refreshing and energizing.
There also were plenty of educational opportunities during the five-day scientific program which included workshops and lectures ranging from medical treatment to research, ethics and even physician self-care.
One of the biggest lessons from WONCA is how family medicine is increasingly being valued worldwide because of how chronic, noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of morbidity, disability and mortality in the world.
World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan, M.D., was our keynote speaker, and she pointed out in her speech that the fundamental shift in disease burden emphasizes a need for enhanced prevention and the care of chronic disease.
"A health system where primary care is the backbone and family doctors are the bedrock delivers the best health outcomes, at the lowest cost and with the greatest user satisfaction," she said.
Family doctors are the foundation for "comprehensive, compassionate and people-centered care," Chan added. Primary care and prevention are critical to addressing these chronic diseases and improving the health of not only our own patients but the people of the world.
"Today, you are the rising stars who offer our best hope of coping with a number of complex and ominous trends," Chan said. "Your talents and skills are needed, and wanted, now more than ever before."
The AAFP's presence at WONCA was important for the future of family medicine in our own country. We know that an interest in global health is one factor that draws students to our specialty. Medical students that participate in global health exchanges understand how a family medicine residency prepares them for international health. During WONCA, our delegation was able to build relationships with family medicine organizations in other countries to increase opportunities for exchanges with students, residents and maybe even with practicing family physicians.
We also took time at WONCA to celebrate and formally honor former AAFP vice president Dan Ostergaard M.D., and outgoing WONCA President Rich Roberts, M.D., for their roles in global health. Roberts (shown in the photo above his wife Laura and me) has traveled to 50 countries, and Ostergaard traveled to more than 60 countries in his three decades with the AAFP. Both men promoted the value and development of family medicine worldwide.
When Ostergaard retired as AAFP vice president for health of the public and interprofessional activities in January, he challenged our students, residents, new physicians and others to "look for opportunities to make a difference from our own backyards to overseas."
In short, WONCA offers an opportunity to get an international taste of family medicine, hear fresh perspectives on the common problems we all face daily and appreciate the increasing value of family medicine worldwide.
Interested in learning more about attending a WONCA meeting? Check out these future possibilities.
Jeff Cain, M.D., is President of the AAFP.