Anniversaries are special, and the celebration becomes even more enjoyable when the birthday coincides with another venture in a pathbreaking adventurous journey through history.
So it is with the University of the West Indies. It is now observing its 70th year of uninterrupted service to the region at the same time that its flagship Faculty of Medical Science (FMS) just this week began offering its first degrees in nursing, the Master of Science in Nursing Administration and Nursing Education, with 19 nurses enrolled.
“This year we celebrate not only 70 years of the founding of UWI and of Medical Education at UWI but we also celebrate 51 years of Medical Education in Barbados,” said Dean of the Faculty Dr Peter Adams last night in the Henry Fraser Theatre, where university staff, students, Government officials and well-wishers had gathered to hear Chancellor Emeritus, Professor Sir George Alleyne, deliver an anniversary lecture and then enjoy UWI birthday cocktails.
“(The Faculty of Medical Science) at Cave Hill has the best and brightest from around the Caribbean applying for places in the MBBS [bachelor of medicine] programme. This year four Barbados Scholarship winners and five Exhibition winners have entered the MBBS programme. We have also accepted students from Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas and Dominica. The majority of our students is non-Barbadian. We limit our intake to allow for a quality clinical education at the Polyclinics and the QEH,” Adams said.
Medicine was the starting point of UWI, at Mona, Jamaica, and in relating the history of the Barbados faculty that has not only jumped to top position but is also now embarking on nurse training.
Adams related that, “in 1967 the first six students arrived in Barbados to complete their final year of the MBBS degree as part of the Eastern Caribbean Medical Scheme and in 1976 some 42 years ago we expanded to the SCMR (Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance) and taught the final two years of the programme.
“In 2008, ten years ago the full faculty was established at Cave Hill.”
Adams related that planning for the establishment of UWI began during the Second World War, and cited this, “an example of how people with vision and foresight with very little resources could plan for the future and put something in place that would serve generations to come”.
This university with campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago; and an Open Campus with 16 centres across the region has its genesis in 1943 when Britain’s secretary of state for the Colonies Sir Oliver Stanley observed “there is an urgent and fundamental need to enlarge our facilities for higher education without which these leaders [of the colonies] cannot be creative”.
Following that a committee decided on a regional university, and Adams said, “to this day the UWI remains one of the few multinational universities in the world”.
Adams explained that there are several multi-campus universities but not many multi-national universities.
He said that the first UWI faculty was medical because of ‘severe physician shortages in the region’.
Mona was the first site chosen which was suitable for facilities like Gibraltar Camp, established in 1940 to house Jewish refugees and displaced persons from Malta and Gibraltar along with prisoners of war.
“Jamaica also had a well-developed hospital system with a population size that would provide an adequate number of patients, critical for an indigenous medical school to successfully serve its purpose,” Adams said, adding, “medicine cannot be learnt from text books and indigenous medical schools must have access to hospitals and clinics with conditions relevant to the region its graduates will serve”.
“The medical faculty has certainly made an impact on health care in the region. We now have an adequate supply of physicians in many of the islands,” he said.