The Synapse is this year celebrating two important anniversaries and as this interview unfolds, you will understand just why Dr Wilfred Galea’s face is beaming. The Synapse - the web portal (www.thesynapse.net) - celebrated 15 years of online activity in October, whilst The Synapse magazine celebrated its decade of publications last March. Another reason for celebration is the birth of the second generation of SMS4Health services on both a local and international basis. Indeed, a lot has transpired since those initial days of experimentation, but the success story is worth remembering because of all that has been achieved since.
Dr Galea admits that one of the greatest moments of pride comes on re-evaluating the road map which had been created even before The Synapse took off. Today, looking forward, whichever the angle one takes, one finds at least two full years of activities planned in the pipeline, and this keeps all involved in the development, working very hard and motivated.
“In 1996 the concept of The Synapse was conceived before we even had any of the internet technology which we take so much for granted today. The concept of networking was so far out of reality as to be considered science fiction. Back then we had serious limitations, besides very low budgets and so we just had to get down to work with whatever tools were available.”
In those early days the team behind The Synapse was also limited. It was composed of himself and Dr Gauden Galea who is today Director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion in the WHO Regional Office for Europe. Dr Wilfred Galea refers to himself as a visionary and appreciatively admires Dr Gauden Galea who shared Wilfred’s enthusiasm and coded and designed the protoype and first working versions of The Synapse, learning how to program a network application in the pre-Web era. Eventually, as things slowly took off, a programmer joined the team to help out and when Gauden had to leave for such distant lands as Nauru, Fiji or the Phillippines, Wilfred found himself running the show practically singlehandedly.
“From the very beginning it was necessary to have a team to back up The Synapse. I realised that much immediately, as I juggled my growing practice and the demands of my young budding family. Today The Synapse prides itself with a very dynamic and enthusiastic team whose varied team members work in synergy backstage to ensure that the daily running of The Synapse happens hiccup-free, both online as well as in print.”
At present The Synapse followers can look forward to a new version of the web portal , supported by the newest of technology which shall allow the concept and character of the whole to remain unchanged whilst allowing new developments to be reached more efficiently and at a much faster rate. Dr Galea explains how The Synapse has reached the stage where several services are being consolidated. “ We are also planning to encourage more member interaction because there are so many from so many varied fields of expertise that we feel they can all contribute hugely to The Synapse community. We have also recently launched a Photography competition for members of the medical profession, including students, with the theme being ‘Malta and Medicine’. For the past two years we have had images of indigenous flowers which were in some way or another linked to medicine, gracing the front cover of The Synapse magazine. The next set of six photos which will feature on the front cover of The Synapse Magazine in 2012 will be chosen from the competition.
Dr Wilfred Galea has been involved in a number of new important initiatives during his career. He was one of the catalysts behind the formation of the Malta College of Family Doctors, being one of its three founder members. He was also one of the first founders of the core group which eventually formed the Association of Family Doctors, apart from being the founder of The Synapse suite of services which are aimed at serving the needs of medical professionals.
Another innovation has been the development of SMS4Health, an automated, web-based, SMS reminder service which has recently seen the launch of a second generation and which is aimed at both local and international markets. All this inbred urge for innovation is diametrically opposed to the traditional belief that many doctors have a natural resistance to change. “Change keeps you going, it has always been that way for me and I envisage a lot of changes which just need time to materialise”.
But what about Dr Wilfred’s family? “All medical professionals know that it is sometimes hard to juggle medical responsibilities with family ones. I am glad that my family carries the same enthusiasm for my endeavours and supports me as much as it can. However, being backed by a good dependable team means that I can switch off occasionally and allow my life to keep a healthy work-life balance (as much as possible). ”
Dr Galea continues, “The Synapse in itself is enough to keep me thoroughly absorbed and has given its share of satisfaction. I am thrilled every time a local or foreign member sends feedback through The Synapse. One interesting anecdote is when someone contacted me asking for help as he wanted to sell his practice – he lives in New Zealand. He wanted to place an ad on the website. One Maltese doctor did pick up a lead (and eventually finished up working in New Zealand herself although she did not buy the practice), and a Canadian doctor saw the ad and responded to the advert as well. It is extremely satisfying to see all this materialising because it clinches connections the world over.
In fifteen years we made great strides and I strongly believe that you can’t achieve what we achieved if we only had employees. The people working in our team are much more than employees – they are passionate people who believe in what they do, working together in harmony and total collaboration. The Synpase could never have achieved so much, had it been otherwise.”