Timely Push For School – Common Sense & Evidence - Sunday 20, February-2005
by Henry Fraser
My vision for the UWI is that it should be first in education, first in research, and the port of first call for Caribbean governments wishing advice and technical expertise. – Professor Nigel Harris, vice-chancellor, University of the West Indies (UWI).
THE RECENT PRESS reports of the “rescue act” of Williams Industries Inc., in assisting the School of Clinical Medicine and Research and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), illustrated the generosity of spirit of Chairman Ralph “Bizzy” Williams.
I have absolutely no recollection of ever having to help Bizzy with homework when we were lads at The Lodge, as he so generously claims, although I recall he hated Latin! I DO remember helping him to build rockets to launch from his backyard at Newcastle, in the republic of St John, in the direction of Hackleton’s Cliff. And I do remember reading the instructions in the physics lab while Bizzy made sense of the circuits and made the experiment work. HE was the rocket scientist!
And so the “win-win” situation created by this gift (and his gifts) can be seen as a chapter in a long but expanding partnership, from the daydreams of school boys to the reality of medical education and industrial success – the partnership of town and gown – in the development of Barbados and the Caribbean. The need for Bizzy’s cheque was created by the need for the School of Medicine to move with the times, and the need for the QEH, as landlord and partners with the school, to provide certain basic facilities.
When medical education began at QEH in 1967, with the final one year of the undergraduate medical programme, it was squeezed into a hospital with a single seminar room, no library and few office spaces.
With expanded undergraduate programmes, multiple postgraduate training programmes, continuing education and outreach programmes and major research programmes, the situation is very much like the little old lady who lived in a shoe.
But teaching space and office space are only part of the needs of a new era. Information technology is now a basic tool; computers, internet connectivity and video-conferencing are indispensable to high quality educational programmes and international collaborations – research, education, conferences or care. These developments are all part of the school and UWI, Cave Hill’s, strategic plan for 2002-2007.
But the School of Medicine at Cave Hill/QEH needs to do much more than maintain its high quality and improve facilities. As one of our senior faculty said recently, the School of Medicine is one of the UWI’s best kept secrets. It must both serve its local and regional constituency and strengthen and expand its reputation as an international centre of excellence in medical education and research.
The UWI’s medical programmes are unable to satisfy the training needs of the Caribbean either in medicine or other health sciences.
The Faculty of Medicine at Mona, Jamaica, can accept less than one in four qualified applicants, while that at St Augustine, Trinidad, can only accept one in six or seven. And the scope for other health and medical science degrees (biochemistry, pharmacology, sports medicine, physical education, mortuary science, and so on), taught in conjunction with the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences, is enormous.
At the same time, the non-Latin Caribbean has the lowest number of physicians per population of all the Western Hemisphere regions! Compared to 27 per 10 000 in North America and 28 per 10 000 in Latin Caribbean, the non-Latin Caribbean figure is seven; even Barbados, beneficiary of so many UWI-trained graduates, has only about 12 per 10 000, similar to Central America, which has the worst Healthy Conditions Index in the hemisphere (Epidemiological Bulletin, Pub. PAHO / WHO, December 2002, Volume 23, Pages 7 – 11).
The university and the school have therefore agreed to the expansion of the school into a full Faculty of Medical Sciences, which will have a guaranteed quota of Caribbean students, in order to help fulfil Caribbean needs, but will also open its doors to the international medical education market.
In many ways the vision at Cave Hill for the school’s expansion has anticipated the recommendations of the UWI management retreat held at the Mona Campus on November 27 and 28. This retreat was designed to address several priority issues for the UWI, in the context of the current strategic plan, including enhanced effectiveness, management systems, quality and generation of non-governmental funds, and the priority areas needed to drive regional growth and development.
It emphasised throughout the goal of an increasing global reach and reputation of UWI, while retaining its commitment to regional development, and a major expansion of its offerings locally and regionally, as emphasised by Cave Hill’s Principal Professor Hilary Beckles.
Major recommendations of the retreat included the role of UWI as a provider of expert assistance to regional governments and industries through institutional consultancies, strengthening existing centres of excellence, and marketing of our education product to a global market.
The relevance of the CARICOM Heads of Governments’ Commission on health and development, chaired by Sir George Alleyne, is clear. The School of Medicine at Cave Hill must play an equal part to the Faculties at Mona and St Augustine in professional medical education at all levels, and in research, in collaboration with the chronic Disease Research Centre, and must lead in health care delivery systems, public education and public policy.
The expansion of the school is now both timely and urgent, and it has been “blessed” by campus and university committees, and by the Ministers of Health and Education for urgent progression.