Q&A with WONCA World President-elect

Morgan Liotta

18/05/2022 3:43:03 PM

Associate Professor Karen Flegg discusses the significance of World Family Doctor Day and the 2023 WONCA World Conference.

Karen Flegg
WONCA World President-elect Associate Professor Karen Flegg.

This year, the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) celebrates 50 years by honouring World Family Doctor Day on 19 May and preparing for the 2023 WONCA World Conference.
WONCA 2023 President-elect, Associate Professor Karen Flegg, discusses the valuable role and contribution of family doctors and primary care teams across global healthcare systems, and the rewarding opportunities the upcoming 2023 conference will bring.
What is the history of WONCA?
WONCA officially began at the Fifth World Conference on General Practice, in Melbourne in 1972, with member organisations from 18 countries.
WONCA now has 132 member organisations in 110 countries and territories, with membership of about 500,000 family doctors and more than 90% of the world’s population.
This year, WONCA celebrates 50 years.
WONCA’s beginning is full of Australians. In Melbourne, the ‘doyen of family medicine education in Australia’, Dr Monty Kent-Hughes, was elected the first WONCA President. Dr David Game was appointed the first Honorary Secretary/Treasurer.
This information is sourced from Professor Wes Fabb, who will be remembered for his work leading the RACGP Family Medicine Program in its early days, and who became the Secretary of WONCA in 1980, when Dr Game was also elected WONCA President.
Professor Fabb wrote a report on his 20 years at the helm of WONCA Secretariat.
I was fortunate in 2012, as the Editor of WONCA, to conduct an interview with Dr Game on his involvement in WONCA as President, Secretary and Editor over three decades. He was also the subject of an RACGP biographical interview.
In 2013, Professor Michael Kidd became the third Australian President of WONCA, and I will be the fourth Australian, becoming President in 2023.
What does it mean to you that the RACGP is hosting the 2023 WONCA World Conference?
I was born, raised and trained in Sydney. How fantastic is it to take office as the WONCA President in your town of origin?
When the RACGP bid for this WONCA World Conference it was meant to be a return to Australia for a 50th anniversary conference in 2022.
COVID-19 caused a delay of one year – but we should still be celebrating this as the 50th anniversary of WONCA’s formation, in Australia.
Our RACGP conferences have always been fantastic events and it’s wonderful to be able to share our conference with the world. In turn, WONCA brings international colleagues for us to network with and exchange ideas.
David Game once said to me, ‘In WONCA, I made a lot of great international friends with whom I stay in contact’.
It’s my hope that many Australian colleagues will make great international friends in Sydney in 2023.
The many working parties and special interest groups of WONCA provide rewarding opportunities to get involved and share ideas internationally. A list of these groups is available on the WONCA website.
The WONCA World Conference coming to Sydney in 2023 will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australian GPs to contribute to a major international conference, with minimal travel.
Get involved: meet people, allow our work to be seen by the world and in turn, learn by what others are doing overseas.
What are your responsibilities as WONCA World President-elect and what do you most enjoy about the role?
As President-elect, my job is to learn more about WONCA and its international activities while supporting the current president, Anna Stavdal, from Norway, to achieve her goals. This involves many meetings, mostly in the late evening.
As did David Game, I’ve made many international friends through being the WONCA Editor for 10 years, and it’s great to be able to have regular contact with them.
In more normal times, I would be enjoying attending conferences overseas and doing practice visits to learn about the life of our international colleagues. However, as we all know travel is not yet back to normal.
I am chairing the international advisory committee for WONCA 2023, in an effort to bring some good ideas from our international colleagues into the conference.
What is the significance of World Family Doctor Day to GPs?
World Family Doctor Day was first declared by WONCA in 2010, and it has become a day to highlight the role and contribution of family doctors and primary care teams in healthcare systems around the world. 
An amazing variety of celebrations have been held around the world in the past 12 years, including street parades, promotional posters, political events, exercise sessions, cakes for practice staff, and of course, CPD events are a favourite.

I associate the day with the catchphrase ‘A family doctor for every family’, often said by Professor Michael Kidd. This celebration is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the central role of family doctors in the delivery of personal, comprehensive and continuing healthcare for all patients.
This year the theme is ‘Family doctors: Always there to care’ and I encourage you to celebrate in your practice.
The 2023 WONCA World Conference will be hosted by the RACGP in Sydney from 26–29 October, 2023.
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