THINGS THAT MATTER - Solutions: Education, creativity and productivity

The socio-economic crisis that dominates discussion in Barbados often generates comment in very general terms, without specific examples, and is often heavily laced with partisan political flavour. Several recent events create the opportunity for meaningful and productive dialogue that could have a positive impact on our problems and our economy, which is currently stuck in the metaphorical molasses.

Last Sunday saw the celebration of the success of 48 young doctors, passing the final medical exams of the University of the West Indies, at the Cave Hill Campus, with their clinical training at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The role of the UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences in producing well educated doctors for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean is very much taken for granted, but it is critical to recognise how important this achievement is, and the potential it creates for our development and prosperity.

These 48 young doctors – almost equal numbers of Barbadians and other Caribbean citizens – have had high quality training that is almost unique in many ways. They have had the experience of a curriculum carefully tailored, over many years of tweaking and improving, to the needs of the Caribbean people, with emphasis on community and family medicine and public health, and prime focus given to the common problems of our population … the chronic diseases that are plaguing us, and the diseases that are more common in our population than in the metropolitan countries, such as lupus and sickle cell disease. And in Barbados, as in Nassau, the student numbers are small, so that students have a wealth of close contact and direct patient experience throughout their training, unlike the situation either in our sister campuses, Jamaica and Trinidad, or in many of the large medical schools in the USA and Britain. This provides them with the best possible clinical skills.

Furthermore, there is continuing tradition of having the most experienced external examiners from top medical schools in Britain and Canada take part in final exams; this is an essential quality assurance policy. And these examiners, without fail, assess our graduates as having clinical skills that are as good as and often superior to their own graduates (again, partly because of the difference in numbers of students at the bedside, and the emphasis in their training). This is hugely important because in the Caribbean accurate diagnosis most often hinges on good clinical skills, as access to costly investigations is often very limited. It is widely acknowledged that for a number of reasons the North American graduate lacks such skills, and costly investigation with many tests is routine. Such practice is simply not feasible in most of the Caribbean.

In my Feature Address at Sunday’s celebration I reminded the graduates of the famous statement of Sir William Osler, the greatest physician of the last century: “To study medicine without books is to sail and uncharted sea, but to study medicine without live patients is not to go to sea at all.” I challenged them to work together to make Barbados’s health facilities the Mayo Clinic of the Caribbean, my vision of 30 years, ignored by the authorities. This is the obvious solution to making our health care sustainable, for many reasons. And I urged the new doctors not only to be role models for their patients, but to remember the words of Mother Theresa – that love is service and service is peace. And to keep at the core of their actions one love – love and charity and its classmate forgiveness – love for God, neighbours and patients, regardless of colour, creed, political persuasion or sexual preference.

The outstanding performance of these young doctors at our Cave Hill campus is an inspiration. I particularly congratulate those receiving honours and special prizes, and especially Dr. Kamaria Jordan and Dr. Khadisha Moore, who both graduated MBBS Honours with Distinction, and Dr. Nina Massiah, who spoke on behalf of her colleagues. She gave a brilliant address, eloquently thanking teachers, staff and patients: “To all our lecturers and staff at the University: Thank you for being an example to follow, mentoring us and, especially, not giving up on us.

You helped us to discover where our true passions and interests lie. You took the extra time teaching and coaching us … and to the patients – Thank you for trusting us, sharing with us and enduring our prodding. You made the books come to life in a way we can never forget. We could not have done this without you.”

At a different level, I was impressed by the creativity seen in the schools’ displays at the Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX) last week.

This annual trade exposition showcases local manufacturing and other commercial and creative enterprises. Apparently a significant number of manufacturers did not take part. I confess that I did not see many exhibits that encouraged me to think that our manufacturing sector is vibrant, and it is an acknowledged fact that it once contributed much more to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than it is now. The Prime Minister supported buying local – a plea I have been making for years, especially with local food production. He said government would do everything it could to encourage this, but he gave no specifics. I was pleased to see Bibi’s display, because I think their sweet potato, plantain and breadfruit chips are superb, and should replace the vast hordes of imported potato chips.

But I WAS inspired by the Schools’ Displays. The art work of the Lodge School was creative and varied, and both paintings, creative writing, ceramics and sculpture were very promising. I was also impressed by the science exhibits – several from secondary schools and a very interesting one from the Christ Church Girls School. This was explained by their science teacher Mr. Victor Wooding, who conceptualised it, but had the students fully involved in building it. It was intriguingly described as an Electric Chair, because it's supposed to be more comfortable than a bicycle. This chair produces electricity on demand and is not dependent on wind or solar. It produces electricity at any time of day and at the same time it gives the user a good workout. The energy produced by pedalling is stored in deep cycle batteries or even a regular car battery. Mr. Wooding pointed out that it could be used in the home or in a gym, to convert all that cycling energy to save electricity or to help power the gym!

All of which leads me to the issue of our taxing budget, and the absence of ideas to stimulate productivity in manufacturing, which as the Prime Minister stated, is so much less than it used to be. We need solutions. We need to grow our manufacturing exponentially, and until we do, we need to cut imports dramatically. We MUST import less, but we MUST produce more. It’s as simple as that.

Bouquets: To Barbados’s senior athletes for their splendid performance in the Senior Games in Alabama, and especially golden girl sprinter Erma Thornhill, who captured three gold medals and one silver, and broke the record in the 50 metres dash. Wow – what wonderful role models!

And to the Barbados Association of Floral Artists (BAFA Inc.) – President Maurice Webster - who are hosting the 12th World Association of Floral Artists Flower Arranging Show in Barbados this coming week, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. This magnificent, once in a life time show is called Flowers in Paradise, and I will be giving the Feature Lecture on Friday 23rd : “The Gardens of Paradise – Past and Present”. It will be a visual feast.

Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website:

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