Wherever Barbadian ophthalmologist and medical philanthropist Dr Kim Jebodhsingh goes, eyes follow and for all the right reasons. This pioneer in health care is now one of the recipients of The 2022 Anthony N Sabga Awards as a laurette in the area of Public & Civic Contributions.
While speaking to Barbados TODAY, the former student of Erdiston Primary and Harrison College recalled growing up in the household with two parents who were both academics. Her mother, Annette Jebodhsingh was a teacher at the Combermere School and her father Jai Jebodhsingh was a university lecturer.
The co-founder of the regional organisation, the Caribbean Ophthalmology Research Alliance (CORA) said that she’s quite pleased having been granted the award as the third Barbadian since the start of the awards since 2006.
Dr Jebodhsingh shared that after completing her studies locally she went over to the University of Waterloo in Canada and followed through with her dreams of becoming an ophthalmologist by going to med school at Mona in Jamaica.
Subsequent to her medical degree she recounted that she did a residency programme in ophthalmology at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit which was followed by her fellowship of special training in oculoplastics and reconstructive surgery.
When asked why an interest in ophthalmology, with bulging eyes of excitement Dr Jebodhsingh said: “Ophthalmology is a fabulous specialty. You get to do surgery, microsurgery, you get to do medicine, you get to be involved in a lot of patient care because a lot of diseases that affect your body, affect your eyes,” she said.
“You are involved in a lot of consultations with other specialties. I don’t think I was made to be anything else but an ophthalmologist,” she said, breaking into a sincere smile.
She recalled that while in medical school she enjoyed most rotations and specialities but the turning point came during her internship in Jamaica where she was indecisive about which area to specialise in and the resident pointed her to ophthalmology – since then it has been all eyes on that specialty for her.
“He explained to me why and from that day I decided I was going to do ophthalmology and from that day I did not look back. It has been an amazing journey really,” she shared.
Jebodhsingh said that she was very excited to come back home not only to practise but to give back.
“It was really a wonderful adventure. I was away for almost twenty years. My husband is Jamaican and I’m Barbadian.. We always decided that we would come back to live in the Caribbean to give back. I went to primary school for free, secondary school for free and medical school for free and we always said we would come back to have a family here,” the founder of The Eye Clinic said.
She said that Barbados has tremendous opportunities which could be capitalised on especially if students bring back what they studied for later implementation.
“I was really excited to come back to Barbados – to have the opportunities to start things like journal clubs. We didn’t really have journal clubs in Barbados which could help the residents to understand the difference of specialties of ophthalmology, the opportunity to start a conference which went on for ten years – it started off small and it was just so well received. There are gaps to fill and ways that you can give back…”
she said, with a tone of gravitas.
She owes her proud spirit of philanthropy to her parents. She recalled how much her mom gave of herself to her students. She added it was the same with her father in the area of sports.
“I feel just a patriotic obligation – how many countries in the world can you go to medical school for free? I also think that along my path so many people have helped me and helped me free with no strings attached. They saw me and my ability and just wanted to help,” she said, calling out persons like Dr Paul Edwards from Jamaica and the late Professor Jeffrey Hurwitz.
“I was given so many opportunities and there was really no skin off of my back. It is not hard for me. If it was something that I found hard then that would be different but I don’t, I actually find it so enjoyable,” Jebodhsingh explained.
While addressing gender disparities within her field she recalled that she never felt as though she was left out of opportunities because she is a woman but was more so presented with them out of ability.
She said that she believes there are many opportunities out there for women now and urged women to go forward with faith in their abilities.
“You should just put your best foot forward because there are people who will recognize your ability and just go for it – that’s how I see it. I don’t look at it that way. I don’t look and say I am disadvantaged because I am a woman. I give my best and that’s what you’re going to get,” she stated firmly.
She added that with a seemingly new generation driven by finances, people should really consider how to help other human beings. One of her primary goals is to provide universal state-of-the-art eye care to the people of Barbados and the Caribbean, to prevent visual impairment and blindness from diseases that affect Caribbean people.
She said that she believes Barbados has evolved in the area of eye care through the years and what brings her the greatest joy is the growth of patients, particularly children.
This oculoplastic surgeon and pioneer is well supported by husband Mark Wilson and loving fifteen-year-old twin sons. Outside of juggling her life as a mom and wife, she said that in the near future plans include continuing her research which was put on hold because of the ongoing pandemic.
She said she hopes to return to her first love of working in the area of cataract repair surgery, and help with educationin the area of lectures.
Outside of her work in medicine she said she thoroughly enjoys spending time with family especially with her sons in the sport
of squash as former president of the Barbados Squash Association.
Her advice for the youth whether in medicine or in other disciplines is simple: “Always persevere. Have a lot of grit. If you put your best foot forward and yWou’re surrounded by people who will recognize that you’re a hard worker and you give off that positive energy, I don’t think people will resist to help,” she added.
“Don’t look at what opportunities others are getting because everyone has a path. Follow your path.”
She gleefully added that she’s very thankful to her best friends, close friends, family and associates who have helped her on her journey. (MR)