US Medical Emergency luminaries mark 25 years of free service to Cornwall Regional Hospital

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Over the past 25 years, thousands of patients attending the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay for emergency medical care have benefited from the professional skills of some of the most talented doctors from the United States of America who remain proud Jamaicans.

While the restoration of good health and life to patients is immeasurable, the contribution of the doctors would have cost millions of US dollars had they not served free of cost to the hospital.

Last Sunday afternoon, members of the volunteering teams who are now working as far afield as Australia, met virtually in celebration of 25 years of service to Jamaica with Consultant Physician at CRH, Dr Delroy Fray marshalling the event. He highlighted that the genesis of the annual mission started with two women, one of whom is Jamaican and culminated his remarks showcasing three outstanding “Jamericans” who chose to give of their time and talent in love to their ancestral country; two of whom were born in Jamaica and one who spent her young years here. Overtime, it grew to 36 participants, seven of them being Jamaicans, consisting of nurses, physicians, physician assistants and an x-ray technologists.

Former Chief Executive Officer of CRH, now Managing Director of the National Health Fund, Everton Anderson said it has been a wonderful experience and “not something we can put in dollar value because not only have you brought your skills, your volunteerism, you efforts, but you brought a lot of social capital and Jamaica owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Heron and her team.”

One of the pioneers, Dr. Sheryl Heron, Associate Dean at Emory University School of Medicine and Dr. Heather Prendergast of the University of Chicago, who joined the team in 2015, are the only two “Jamerican” women in the United States to hold the prestigious titles and positions of Deans and Full Professors of Emergency Medicine at their respective institutions. Dr Christopher Scott, also a luminary in Emergency Medicine and a graduate of Howard University and Emory Emergency Medicine, serving as Senior Vice President Envision of the West Florida Alliance Group, joined the initiative in 2002.

Dr Heron shares the pioneering honour with her colleague and best friend, Dr Patricia Baines. Both are graduates of Howard University College of Medicine where they met. Subsequently, when they were both residents at MLK/Drew Medical Center, Dr Baines shared her vision of working in Jamaica and the journey began in 1995 with them travelling to Montego Bay and spending a month on elective rotation.

The Zoom technology that enabled the celebratory event, facilitated several participants joining in for brief periods while on the job at their respective hospitals, each extoling the personal joy they have experienced in serving and some committing to joining the team on its next visit to the CRH in 2021.

Speaking of the impact of their service at the hospital, Dr Heron who said she was grounded in her faith and family, admitted that “Jamaica will always be the cornerstone of my heart.” “Every year the patients know when we are coming. They come and they express appreciation that we have pride in our work and we really strive to impart the highest level of professionalism,” she said, adding that “while as doctors we are privileged, we understood that treating each patient with utmost respect” was very important.

In addition to practical patient care, team members give lectures on leadership and professionalism, wellness and wellbeing to local healthcare workers. They played a key role in the setting up of the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) in the Jamaica Fire Brigade. With the support of other eminent doctors, Dr. Scott has hosted several residents from the Jamaica Emergency Residency programme for observations in Orlando, Florida.

Sharing her experience, volunteer Dr Cynthia Price said, “You don’t know when you are going to be part of something awesome and amazing and so when people ask you, at whatever point in your career, do your best to say yes, so we say yes in 2000 and now look at the legacy, the groundwork and the foundation of something that is going to continue beyond today.” She said beyond being privileged and working in medicine, “we have the minds for a spirit of service. In this day and age when you can choose unkindness and ugliness and selfishness, say yes, choose kindness, choose giving and choose life.”

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