Dr. Woollard is Professor of Family Practice at UBC. He has extensive national and international experience in the fields of medical education, the social accountability of medical schools, ecosystem approaches to health, and sustainable development. He is actively involved in Nepal with a new national medical school, school of public health, and nursing school founded on the principles of social accountability, and also works in East Africa on matters of social accountability, primary care, and accreditation systems. He co-chairs the Global Consensus on Social Accountability for Medical Schools (GCSA) and does extensive work in this area with many international bodies.

His primary research focus is the study of complex adaptive systems as they apply to the intersection between human and environmental health. His book, “Fatal Consumption: Rethinking Sustainable Development” details some of his work in this regard. He also provides central leadership in the development of a Canadian national strategy for addressing educational and service needs for surgical and obstetrical services in rural Canada—in particular Aboriginal service access for birthing. He was instrumental in establishing the mobile clinic for agricultural workers and continues the active practice of medicine. Above all he is a husband, father and grandfather.

He was the lead organizer for the World Summit on Social Accountability in Hammamet, Tunisia. We had a chance to talk to him after the conference to get his thoughts on what happened during the World Summit and what the future holds.

Where did the organizing committee get the inspiration to organize a World Summit on Social Accountability?

It evolved naturally after the Global Consensus on social accountability in South Africa in 2010. There was an impact in the world already, but as the years went by (although interesting things were happening) there was no organized way of taking it forward. The consensus had been out long enough and was well known by 2017 that a World Summit on Social Accountability was possible to see where we could take it. The summit was constructed on the 4 cardinal issues; partnership, leadership, accreditation and competencies.

There was a general interest. The Network: TUFH was asked as a co-host and responded with enthusiasm. This was when the summit took off with The Network: TUFH behind it. A key piece of the success of the World Summit on Social Accountability is the relation with The Network: TUFH.  It’s a real network of networks and a great framework for complex tasks. This was recognized at the summit by Jim Campbell from the WHO is his keynote speech “The desire and necessity of organizations in taking words in to actions”.

Why is this topic of social accountability so important in 2017 and why was it well placed in Tunisia?

The fundamental base for social accountability is social justice. The world has become increasing inequitable and the social determinants of health are key in the health of a population. This World Summit provided a nice framework indicating how we can do something about that. Medical schools are most of the times wealthy, no matter the economic state of the country, and fairly influential. If we want to have an impact, we need to do it through medical schools.
At a previous The Network: TUFH conference in Pretoria, South Africa the decision for the location of the World Summit on Social Accountability in Tunisia was finalized. Medical schools played an important role in Tunisia in the revolution and the rebuilding of the post revolution society. That is very clear after the Nobel Prize for peace was won in Tunisia.

What outcomes do you anticipate from the Tunisia conference; Tunis Declaration and Student Declaration? 

We are working hard on that. We went in to conference with the idea of 6 working groups. There were 4 thematic working groups on partnership, leadership, competencies and accreditation. There was a student working group that is represented throughout the 4 thematic working groups. And there is an advocacy and communication group, which links everything together and is the key working group in this post development.
At the end of the World Summit on Social Accountability considerations that where shaped in the Tunis Declaration with four axes/four areas of activity. It is an action oriented declaration. What is evolving now are working groups on those 4 axes/areas and development of partnerships. In the next 6 months to 1 year partnerships with the WHO and other organizations will play out in a way that we can identify what our value is. How do we collaborate, coordinate and inspire each other. The student working group has a special influence, because they go across all topics.

At this stage it’s impossible to be predicting what will be the most influential outcome. There is a wide range of evolving partnerships and excellent people leading in these areas. I’m looking forward to see how it evolves. As said during the conference “If it was easy, it would already have been done”.
We need a collected effort to shift health professions education. We need to push for collaboration between the health sector and the education in order to get the health professionals that we need.

How can we as individuals make the world socially accountable?

Simply put: By working together! If the foundation of social accountability is social justice, than the way we treat each other as individuals/organizations/communities is key. We need to treat each other with respect.

My youth in the 60ies with youth movements for civil right, peace, and the Vietnam War were life changing. In order to have collective action, we need effective partnership and leadership to push for change. We need individuals behaving with care towards healing and health in health professions. The way we treat our family, our neighbors, between generations, etc. will be reflected in our profession as well.

As you move up scale from individual to broader goals, we need to make sure we the world is getting ready. The health system needs to create idealistic healers, in order to do so they have to be able to practice their art in the world. It comes down to not just protesting as individual but actually building a socially just world.

What can you tell us about the Charles Boelen International Social Accountability Award and the winners this year?

The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) won the Charles Boelen award this year because of the coordinated way they work as an organization of organizations. They brought issues around social accountability together in different institutions all over the world

We want to foster where we become more than the sum of our parts. IFMSA puts it in to practice. The Charles Boelen award was conceived by Charles Boelen and AFMC with criteria that recognize the complexity of the task also the do ability of the task. The two previous winners; Training for Health Equity Network (THEnet) and the Francophone International Action-Research Project on the Social Accountability of Faculties of Medicine; are also good examples of  international attempts of becoming more than the sum of  our parts and taking practical steps. IFMSA reflects that attempt and accomplishment.
IFMSA are the people that are building the future. There should be a lot of optimism for the future.

Some of the earliest cohesive discussions were brought out by the students in preparation of The World Summit on Social Accountability. The initial drafts by IFMSA and SNO came with the message “it’s hard, but doable”. The Charles Boelen award is an institutional award to a particular organization. To me this year it represented a broader affirmation that the students will be pivotal is taking things forward.
The student involvement in the process remains pivotal to bring about change.

The generation that tends to be the bulk of any professions in practice sees that things need to change. And often that means that the students need to change, instead of changing ourselves. We push change on the next generation instead of taking serious our responsibility in the present. Student engagement should and did inspire us. Through partnerships, accreditation systems and reflections on competencies the need to change to existing systems is clear. Otherwise we run the risk of creating round pegs with a system of square holes.

“More information on the Charles Boelen award on https://afmc.ca/awards/afmc-charles-boelen-international-social-accountability-award

You’ve talked a lot about the importance of the student involvement. During the World Summit on Social Accountability SNO, IFMSA, local and international students worked hard together with the professionals that have many years of experience. How do you describe the Student Network Organization (SNO)?  

Like The Network: TUFH  is a network of networks; in the student universe SNO represents a similar opportunity. SNO is also a network of networks. SNO has a very specific commitment to social accountability. IFMSA has a huge range of responsibilities and social accountability is one of them. SNO sees social accountability as one of their main responsibilities. I’m very optimistic from the joined work between both organizations, like this last conference. SNO is also broader than only medical students, including nurses, midwives, public health,…

Jim Campbell from the World Health Organization said they the SHO need The Network: TUFH to help do their job. In comparison IFMSA is the WHO and SNO is The Network: TUFH.

How has The Network: Towards Unity For Health influenced your career/life?

What The Network: TUFH has done for me personally is that it provided me with a venue in which I have been able to develop both personally and professionally. I was a simple country doctor in a very rural practice for 2 decades before I came to the university and learned about The Network: TUFH. The sustainability of society has always been a big area of interest for me. The Network: TUFH  has provided this unbelievable area of relationships, opportunities, ways of honing and challenging, changing many of my ideas. It’s actually difficult to imagine what my life would have been like both personally and professionally without The Network: TUFH. It’s a social image of interesting people who share a desire to have a just world. Regular meetings each year, working together throughout the year is very valuable. I thank The Network: TUFH for the successful international career I have now.

What would you say to encourage institutions thinking of joining or re-joining The Network: TUFH? 

I think I would say that your institution will get far more out of the cooperation then the energy that goes in to it. It’s a very powerful investment in understanding and expression the social accountability of your institution.

What would you say to encourage students to attend the conference and becoming an active member of The Network: TUFH? 

By your presence in health professionals training you express a commitment to being a healer. And healing will always be more than dealing with individuals who are suffering, because you want to prevent suffering as much as deal with the aftermath of suffering.

Being involved with The Network: TUFH and SNO provide an opportunity to very quickly jump up the scale where that healing takes place.

Even as a student you have a responsibility in things happening in the neighborhood of your patients. Which in influenced by the region in which in exists, which is in its turn influences by the nation in which it exists. And the nation is influenced by the international level in which in exists. SNO is a direct path to the top level with your ideas, experience and influences.

And if you are a healer or healer in the making I can’t imagine a more direct pathway to that level of consideration. Because you are going to be surrounded by people building the future world in which you will practice the next 30 or 40 years. You should try and build it the way you want it. SNO represents a pathway of opportunity.

Please tell us a non-professional fun fact about yourself.

I was reflecting on the plane on the way home from Toronto “This week 50 years ago is when I met Erlene, my wife”. She, my children and my grandchildren are the primary source of my fun. I bicycle commute 40 km each day in spite of 3 bike injuries. Of that 40 km, half is along the seashore, where I see eagles and all kind of birds in the early hours.