Getting involved with WONCA and VdGM – a European network of family doctors

I’m not sure if anyone saw on our Facebook page but there was a post recently asking how to get involved with the Vasco da Gama Movement (VdGM) and WONCA. I thought this was a really good question so I thought that I would put together as much information as I have gathered in the last few years and put it in one place.

The Vasco da Gama team

For those of you new to this scene, WONCA stands for the World Organization of National Colleges, Academies and Academic Associations of General Practitioners/Family Physicians and sees itself as a “World Organisation of Family Doctors” . WONCA World is split into its regions – Africa, East Mediterranean, North America, Asia Pacific, South Asia, Europe, Iberoamericana – with a representative Young Doctors’ Movement each – AfriWON, Al Razi, Polaris, Rajakumar, Spice Route, Vasco da Gama and Waynakay respectively. What these networks provide is a sense of community and belonging but, with a new collaboration between WONCA and the WHO, there may be more scope for advocacy and system change.

So how to get involved…

VdGM pre-conference and the WONCA conference

There is a regional conference annually with the next WONCA Europe being in Berlin next year and Amsterdam in 2021. This is a huge conference with family doctors from all across Europe who meet and attend workshops and talks on family medicine. The Young Doctors’ Movement normally run a pre-conference for 2 days prior the main conference which is an opportunity to meet other young doctors from across the Continent. One thing I can say about my European colleagues is that they aren’t as self-conscious as the British and the pre-conference is two days of shedding inhibitions, having fun and getting stuck in! It doesn’t matter if you come alone as the vibe is very inclusive and you will leave with more friends than you can possibly imagine. After five pre-conferences, I pretty much now have a floor to sleep on in pretty much every European country! The great news is that WONCA Europe is coming to London in 2022 so there are literally no excuses!!


This is an easy way to dip your toe in and if you ask anyone who is active on the VdGM scene, they will always tell you of an exchange that started their journey. There are several types of exchanges that are available and you can try all of them if you wish!

  1. There are funded Erasmus exchanges where you visit another GP from Europe and they come and visit you. This is where my journey started when I applied for the Erasmus exchange and landed in Turkey. There is nothing better than experiencing first hand what family medicine looks like and is a great starting point for learning.
  2. There are self-funded exchanges to Europe (Hippokrates) and the rest of the world (FM360). The JIC will put you in touch with the exchange co-ordinator who will put you in touch with the relevant hosts. Having been in Japan, I’ve seen the FM360 in action where we’ve welcomed visitors from Brazil, Italy and Mexico and you get a real flavour of the healthcare system and the culture!
  3. Conference exchanges are an awesome way to do a little taster session where you can visit a practice for a few days and then attend a conference. If you’re a bit nervous, this is probably a great starting point. The great thing about these ones is that there’s usually a group of you from several countries across Europe and it is incredibly sociable. I managed to gatecrash the one in Izmir during my Erasmus exchange and we had colleagues from Greece, Netherlands, Spain and Peru who all remain firm friends four years on! In fact I celebrated my birthday this year with one of them so we were able to have a mini reunion! As Chair of the JIC, I get to hear about these exchanges from several sources and I’ve seen a few intercontinental romances bloom from these conference exchanges which makes me feel weirdly like a proud mother hen even though I don’t have anything to do with them! These conference exchanges are sporadically advertised throughout the year and usually require a short motivation letter to win a place!
  4. If you can’t spend time away from your practice, you can always host a colleague from Europe to spend time at your practice. As this exchange programme is reciprocal, we are always looking for hosts.

Contact if you want to know more.

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The UK conference exchange with visitors from Spain, Portugal and Pakistan flanked by Claire, immediate past president on the left and Ula, ex-VdGM rep, on the right

VdGM Forum

So a few members of our team have just come back from Torino in Italy where they held the 6th VdGM Forum. This is a two-day educational event (which is really four with all the social events) which is created by Young Doctors for Young Doctors. There’s usually several eminent plenary speakers and several workshops. This year, one workshop that really affected me was the one ran by our Dutch colleagues on euthanasia. I always thought I was really liberal but it turns out I’m not! Although I totally am on board with euthanasia of terminal cancer, the grey area made me really uncomfortable. Would I be able to assist someone in death for treatment-refractory depression? How about dementia? The great thing was having a safe space where we could discuss this whilst sharing our own personal stories from across Europe. If you want your thoughts and beliefs challenged, this is the event to come to. And typical to VdGM, the parties are often spontaneous, en masse and inclusive rather than exclusive. There’s usually a Whatsapp group so ask around (if you email the JIC or the UK VdGM rep, we should be able to send you the link) to make sure that you are plugged in. My advice is to put it on mute because it is VERY active.

See Erwin’s YouTube video on his experiences here!

The 7th VdGM Forum is in Edinburgh in February 2021 so we’ve made it super easy for you UK trainees and First5 – absolutely no excuses!!

WONCA awards and funding to come to WONCA

So the awards offered by WONCA is the area I am least familiar with as I don’t have much to do with this but I’ll put the link here but there are some funds available via WONCA awards. Also, don’t forget to check with your Faculties in case they have funding for you to attend a WONCA event. It usually involves a short motivation letter and are often undersubscribed so it’s worth checking them out. Don’t forget that the Erasmus exchange is fully funded (although we’re uncertain post-Brexit)

VdGM Council and Executive Board

Maybe you want something a little more political? The Council is made up of a representative from each country nominated by the National Members Organisation e.g. for us, the RCGP recruits the UK VdGM rep. This post comes up every three years and your role is to represent the needs of UK Young Doctors on the VdGM Council alongside reps from every other country.

Our current VdGM rep, Stuart, on the right who is definitely bossing it with last year’s conference exchangees

The positions on the Executive Board are elected by the Council. I had to go through this process when I stood for VdGM Liaison Officer 3 months ago which involved giving a seven-minute presentation and then being slaughtered by the Council by excellent questions (it wasn’t that bad but it certainly felt like it!!). I know that several positions are up for grabs next year so if you’re thinking of being President Elect, Secretary, Exchange Officer, Events Officer, Awards and Fundraising Officer, keep an eye on the VdGM Facebook page where these opportunities will be advertised.

There’s also a video about vdgm in general if you want to click here

Final thoughts

Right, I think that’s enough a brain dump from me. Please comment below if you have any questions or comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. Also, of note, I will be stepping down as Chair of the RCGP JIC at the end of October 2019. My intention is to carry on with this blog which has given me so much joy over the last few years and it would be great if you could let me know what you’d like included in it!! Don’t forget to subscribe!

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