Picture of Declan FoxDeclan Fox is a Family Physician in Tignish, PEI


Dubrovnik, Croatia, was the setting for this year’s WONCA rural practice conference. This is an amazing small city, the so-called ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ and a tourist attraction since the late 1800s.

We are two nurses and a physician from rural PEI who took on the job of resurrecting an old medical practice, starting on a very part-time basis in the fall of 2013 and going full-time a year later. The “why” of it is far too long a story for this blog but I have blogged about it before.

We were trying to find some good multi-disciplinary CME in Canada for us three to attend last year. We failed, of course. And then one of us suggested the 13th WONCA world rural health conference as a place where we would likely meet like-minded professionals who were concerned about the systems aspect of rural health care as well as the individual encounters. So we were off!

It took us nearly three days to get there due to an Air Canada plane breakdown so we didn’t get to all the events we wanted to, but we did have two full days of conference-going and, equally important, time to talk to others attending. We also had time to talk to each other about ways of improving our own practice. The long coffee and lunch breaks indicated fine brains on the organizing committee.

The organization was first class: a helpful website, good English-speaking conference staff, a very efficient registration process and a superb venue at the Valamar Complex overlooking the sea. I estimated attendance in the hundreds, if not more. A nice comfortable number at each session we attended. There are several lovely hotels on this site and you walk from one to another thro lush gardens, all so peaceful. The sunshine was quite a change from a hard PEI winter.

The program was pretty lush also and we had some very difficult choices to make. For example, there was a scientific stream running every day, this was a series of ten-minute presentations covering a vast variety of subjects.

We spent our first three hours at leadership workshops. Some great presentations and group work. Memorable points were made; one about leadership saving lives, another about how we – in our own minds – hype up leadership, make it a really big thing, and thereby devalue the small things we do every day, and finally that old saw about our greatest fear being that we are each of us powerful beyond measure.

After coffee, it was the big gig—invited speakers. Richard Roberts from the USA was truly inspiring on his topic, “changing barriers into bridges”, and he was even better during question time, a great blend of passion, learning and commitment.

After a lunch that was way better than at most conferences I have attended (so many choices!), we invaded an emergency skills workshop where an extremely helpful Croatian resus trainer took us under his wing and my two nursing colleagues, who can’t get onto any kind ALS course here in PEI, happily intubated manikins before mastering the QuickTrach system.

And then it was drinks on a beautiful terrace overlooking the Adriatic before eventually heading back to the lovely old apartment we rented in Oldtown and connecting with our spouses.

Day two started with a memorable workshop—Implementing Change—led by two British GPs who left Blighty for New Zealand years ago and have truly done great things: Doctors Martin London and Jo Scott-Jones. Lots of tips on how to find the right people and influence them to make things better, followed by some inspirational small group work. And in a surreal moment, I met a Canuck who tweeted me in Montreal airport while we were waiting for our separate trans-Atlantic flights.

Then there was a session on family violence, presentations and group work. At the time I thought it just ok but I find myself thinking back to points made so clearly it had an effect on me.

The second day big gig was a mixed bag of speakers and topics, the most memorable being Barbara Doty from the USA talking on climate change and health. It all sounded unrealistic for a bit—how does a rural physician take on Big Oil, for example?—but as she went on it got better and better and we gave her a thumbs up.

A great interactive presentation followed lunch, given by Leslie Rourke from Newfoundland. It was on managing personal and professional relationships in rural practice. Lots of good common sense stuff and lots of discussion.

And at that point we had to bow out because exhaustion was setting in. We were sorry we missed the last half day but we certainly came away energized, inspired and much more hopeful of being able to improve our service in Tignish, PEI. The next WONCA rural conference is in Cairns, Australia, in 2017 and we have started saving our truck drivers medical fees to get there.