Picture of Tom FaheyTom Fahey is Professor of General Practice in The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a general practitioner in Dublin, Ireland


In late 2015 I was fortunate to be awarded a James M. Flaherty visiting professorship  from the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF). The purpose of this award is to enable academic exchange between Canada and Ireland. Earlier this year I visited the Universities of Ottawa, Toronto and British Columbia and also met with the editorial team of the CMAJ. In the latter part of my visit I met with Dr. Wendy Norman, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Chair, Family Planning Public Health Research and Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia. We reflected on our own personal clinical academic journeys in our own two countries and found that we shared many experiences and feelings about the importance of a strong clinical academic framework in Family Medicine. Common to our thoughts was a need to provide a pathway and infrastructure to younger colleagues embarking on a career in academic Family Medicine. This is particularly important as many developed countries are facing a crisis in attracting and retaining skilled primary care clinicians.

At this time I had also led an unsuccessful application to the UK’s Wellcome Trust for an all-Ireland PhD programme for clinical researchers in Family Medicine and Pharmacy. Though not rated worthy of funding, we received constructive feedback and have been encouraged to consider other funding agencies that might support a clinician scientist PhD programme in Ireland. A further development has been that the two main funding agencies in Canada and Ireland, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Health Research Board (HRB) of Ireland have expressed a willingness to hold an international meeting on sharing experience and expertise in relation to clinical academic training in Family Medicine. This meeting takes place on Wednesday 6th July in Dublin, ahead of the 45th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society of Academic Primary Care (SAPC).

An international panel of speakers who have successfully led PhD programmes in Family Medicine will talk about their experience and the challenges we face. Lars Lindholm, Director of the Swedish National School of Primary Care and Umea University has attracted praise from the Editor of the Lancet on building and delivering a programme that is transforming academic Family Medicine in Sweden. Richard Hobbs, Director of the NIHR School for Primary Care Research and Oxford University will outline the transformation of primary care research as well as provide reflection on the Oxford Primary Care Leadership programme.

Canadian colleagues Dr Wendy Norman (UBC) and Dr Robyn Tamblyn (CIHR) will outline the challenges and opportunities in Canada and the substantial investment and plans of CIHR to support an academic infrastructure for family physicians in Canada. In the same way Dr Emma Wallace (RCSI medical school) and Dr Annalisa Montesanti (HRB) will set out the current and future plans for clinical academic careers in Ireland. Lastly, Amanda Howe, President-elect on the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) will provide international-context to clinical academic careers in Family Medicine throughout the world.

A key output from this meeting will be to re-configure and re-apply for funding that will enable and support clinical academic training in Family Medicine. Opportunities exist to share educational resources, encourage academic exchange for PhD and post-doctoral students, and enhance the collaborative nature of academic Family Medicine. By linking our meeting to the 45th Annual Scientific Meeting of the SAPC we aim to attract a wide range of clinicians, funders and policy-makers. We are particularly interested in hearing the thoughts of our younger clinical colleagues. If you are near to Dublin in early July, you would be most welcome to join us.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of 8 blogs about international collaboration in strengthening primary care research, ahead of the #SAPCASM2016 conference in Dublin, Ireland