Banding together, physicians take on world health issues

Robert M. Wah, MD , Former President

When I talk to physicians from other countries, I am always struck by how similar our struggles are, despite our different cultures, and how steadfast our commitments to our patients are.

At a recent council meeting of the World Medical Association (WMA) in Oslo, Norway, I spent time with physicians from Brazil, Korea, Uganda, Japan and Germany. We’re spread across the globe, but many of the health care issues we’re tackling here in the United States are similar to the ones our counterparts are addressing in their homelands as well.

As the international organization representing physicians, the WMA’s membership is comprised of 111 national medical associations. I have represented the AMA alongside AMA President-elect Steven J. Stack, MD, and Immediate-past President Ardis Dee Hoven, MD. (In fact, Dr. Hoven just became the first female chair of the WMA.)

Talking with colleagues from around the world was a good reminder that we aren’t alone in the struggles we face and that banding together can make us stronger in conquering these challenges.

For example, physicians in many countries are grappling with public health challenges, the burdens of chronic diseases and health IT issues. While our individual challenges may differ, the global community shares many of the same concerns. That’s why it’s so important that our voices come together on the international level.

Among other things, the WMA is revving up its work on the social determinants of health (the social and economic circumstances in which people are born and live that can give rise to poor health conditions). As physicians, we’re used to picking up the pieces and repairing the damage that comes from these social determinants. Our global work seeks to better address these social determinants and apply what we know to prevent poor health, rather than just treating the symptoms of socially rooted diseases.

Amidst the business of our practices, it can be difficult for us to see beyond the patients we care for every day. But it’s good to take a step back from time to time and remember we’re all facing similar challenges. Our collective efforts can help us surmount these struggles more comprehensively to produce healthier patients and a healthier world.

I also am inspired and heartened by physicians’ commitment to high quality care and dedication to patients—the same dedication across the globe, no matter where we are.

Later this month, I’ll be heading to Geneva, Switzerland, for the World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization. Our global community again will discuss issues that affect us all: Childhood obesity, chronic disease, women’s health and vaccinations, among others. I’m looking forward to what the worldwide power of physicians can accomplish.