Meeting Dr Joe Pace in one of the clinics he attends, allows Marika Azzopardi an opportunity to discover more about this doctor’s profession, his hobbies and interests, from IT, to acting, skiing and more.
TS: As a family doctor, your work takes you to various pharmacies around the south of Malta, apart from carrying out routine home visits, but has it always been so?
I became a doctor in 1988 and worked for a few years in primary care. I then spent 16 years working towards computerising the local public health service, during which time I sat for a Master degree in Public Health Medicine (becoming a specialist in this sphere). Indeed, I spent so much time on medical computing, that I relegated my medical practice to a part-time basis. However, I am presently a full-time family doctor again.
TS: What was the purpose of your work in medical computing?
I was involved in introducing computing skills in St Luke’s Hospital, Mater Dei Hospital, local health centres and Gozo General Hospital. Our team would implement computing systems purchased by the Government from foreign companies and act as a go-between in order to facilitate the use of these systems within the National Health Service. I sometimes also wrote small computer programs myself to fill in gaps or provide services for areas that were too small for a full-blown formal purchase.
TS: Can you elaborate on this?
Yes, for instance, our team worked towards implementing computing systems within the hospital labs, so that results from the analysers could be fed directly to the computer system and sent out in a timely fashion to the clinicians concerned. I also had a paw in the setting up of the ‘myHealth’ system.
TS: What were the biggest hurdles and challenges?
Most definitely, the business change did bring on great challenges, but mainly these challenges revolved around limited resources, both of the financial and of the human kind. Suffice to say that in Ireland and Portugal for instance, a hospital the size of Mater Dei Hospital has a staff complement of 20-25 IT specialists. In our case, our team included about 10 members of staff who worked on a nationwide basis. Having few resources, including not enough people was only one of the problems. Another one was the need of twisting a new tool round to adapt to old methods, and of course, the lack of resources did not help us overcome the resistance to change. Our limited IT budget did not grow on an annual basis, but rather remained static or was restricted over time. Having said that, our team was always very positive and managed to do a great deal with what was made available.
TS: Why did you decide to leave the computing world?
The politics and daily difficulties involved in the massive project of implementing several large software packages all across the Maltese national health scheme eventually wore me out. I decided I needed to change and go back to being a general practitioner as I was not seeing a future for myself nor any future and valid growth for my career. I did take on a job as a CEO for a private company in between, but in the end I did go back to becoming a full-time family doctor.
TS: What are your feelings about this change?
I am indeed surprisingly very happy, since I am once again relating to people and finding some loyalty from my plethora of patients. Apart from my work as a family doctor, I also serve as a private consultant with a company specialising in medical informatics. I am presently working on a project focusing on the elderly and people with a disability. The project aims to support staff members with the necessary tools for easier management of administrative tasks. This should help staff dedicate more time to actually providing care to patients, by relieving them from the administrative workload.
TS: What do you do in your spare time, if you have any?
I love to ski and one of my most recent travels has been to ski in Bulgaria at an altitude of 2700m. I used to play football but now skiing is my preferred sport. Then again I do a lot of acting. When I had more time, I had been known to take part in three plays in just one season. I have acted in theatre productions for MADC, Maleth, Koperatturi and others. To a certain extent, local theatre companies now accept to work around my availability if they want me to be in their cast.
TS: What is your preferred role?
I love Shakespearean parts, but my typical roles do not generally show me up as a bad guy. Having said that, comedy is not easy for me due to my physique. Last summer I acted out Trevor Zahra’s monologues, and in the past I enjoyed being part of Francis Ebejer plays. But by far, my most favourite role has been Alistair in the play by Oresta Calleja ‘Il-Belliegħa fil-Bir’. It was an extremely complicated role about a homosexual man who had to deal with several paternal issues.
TS: … and you write?
Yes indeed, I have written a novel (Merlin Publishers), called ‘It-Tielet Teorija’. My second book is in the works and due to be published later this year. I am turning 53 this May, happily busy and having fun in what I do. I remarried in 2012 and together with my wife, we have four ‘grown’ kids.
I read The Synapse … because, over the many years during which it has been in existence, it has always provided excellent, relevant information for the Maltese healthcare scene.