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WONCA EUROPE 2014

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Interview with
Richard Roberts

“I still like to think of myself as a young family doctor!”
 
He might be perceived as a sort of globetrotter of Family Medicine. The past president of WONCA World and professor at the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine, has travelled all over the world in recent years and witnessed, first-hand, the small miracles that many family doctors are able to do, almost always with scarce technical means at their disposal, but conscious of the therapeutic value they carry within themselves. Next July, Richard Roberts returns to Portugal and to Lisbon, for a much expected presentation at the 19th WONCA Europe Conference.  A presentation that should do justice to his trademark style, by being instructive and inspiring, at the same time 
 
Could you explain us the fundamental elements of the presentation you’ll be giving at the 19th WONCA Europe Conference … Are you going to share some of the experience you’ve gathered over the years, by contacting colleagues from all parts of the globe?
I plan, in fact, to share with the participants at the Lisbon Conference the amazing stories of family doctors from around the world that I’ve been fortunate to meet and the most important things that I’ve learned from them. 
 
But are these life lessons rooted in exchange and training programs developed by the university in which you work, or are they the result of your personal travels?
What I’m going to share is based on my personal experiences as WONCA President, but I have also spent 30 years as a researcher, a writer, a teacher, improving the quality of care and the quality of health services provided to the population. So that, of course, will also be reflected in the presentation that I’m preparing for Lisbon.
 
The theme of your presentation is also related to the new generation of family doctors and their potential… Do you really believe that there are such vast differences between the new family doctors – the ones that start their practice nowadays – and the doctors belonging to your generation? 
Well, I still like to think of myself as a young family doctor! It is always hard to think of oneself otherwise… But answering your question, I believe there are some differences, in how people look at their work planning and in the way they find a balance between personal/family life and professional responsibilities. I also find clear differences between generations, when it comes to the use and comfort with technology. These are interesting subjects and I hope to address them in Lisbon. 
 
According to your opinion, that greater intimacy with technology, evident in the new generation of doctors, is cross-cultural?
Yes. But it is curious to see that technology changed some things, especially amongst the young doctors, and one of those things is the notion of possible and impossible. Nowadays, it is much easier for a medical student in Lisbon to communicate and fell closer to, for example, a young family doctor in South Island, New Zealand, because the internet brings them together. 
Older and more experienced family physicians may not have had that opportunity, or ability. Obviously, some of them were involved in a global level through scientific and professional organizations and were able to meet colleagues from around the world, as they participated in international congresses and meetings, but not everybody is able to do that. With the most recent information and communication technologies everything is much easier, so I think there are some things that the younger family doctors can teach the rest of us. This new setting carries with it good things and bad things. The good part is that young family doctors may develop a better sense of global community, with people sharing interests and concerns. But sometimes, it’s also a bad thing, because it may create what we, in the USA, call groupthink. This means that if everybody focuses on the same information sources and if everybody shares the same realities, in some ways there is a risk of reducing the unique cultural and local perspectives on things. In short, I’m convinced that both generations (older doctors and young family doctors) have something valuable to teach each other.

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