Dr Sandra Knight: Drive, passion, commitment

Monday, November 26, 2012

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So determined was Dr Sandra Knight that she was going to be a doctor, that by the age of three she was dissecting rats and lizards to study their anatomy.

At just 39, she has gone far beyond just fulfilling her childhood dreams. In the process of doing so, she has taken on several causes which have positively impacted the lives of many people. Still she says, there is much more to be accomplished.

"My greatest dream is to be able to affect the pathway that my people is on. Why are we here if not for human nature? I want to help us to be what we can be," she said

The statement is not just idle philosophical jibber from the medical practitioner who is currently on a drive to get young girls to value themselves more. As the present chair of the National Family Planning Board, she feels she has a great platform to do just this.

In addition to holding this post, Dr Knight is a general and anti-aging practitioner who does emergency duty at the Bustamante Hospital for Children where she had worked for 10 years as a senior medical doctor before cutting back on her hours at the hospital. The doctor is still being rated by many for the bold move she took in breaking the silence on the high levels of child sexual abuse cases she saw coming to the hospital. Her expose was carried in the Jamaica Observer and resulted in many people coming forward to speak about their own traumatic experiences.

"It was just terrible, I was getting sick of it, especially since my daughter was born, so that's why I decided to talk about it," she said.

Dr Knight is a mother to seven-year-old "Tifany with one F" as the mother daughter team always tell people. Although she has many patients, children she finds are the best.

"I love children, and children are very appreciative when you make them better and once they are better, you immediately know," she said with a smile.

She shivered as she recalled the first time she saw a child dead in a hospital bed in Jamaica. For her, it was her wake up call that medicine would require far more of her emotions than dissecting lizards elicited. But still she was not deterred in pursuing her career path, especially when she considered that her beloved grandfather had died from a heart attack.

"I was walking on the ward and there was this dead child on the bed and I just freaked out," recounted Dr Knight who was on her first internship experience in a Jamaican hospital and fresh from a six-year sabbatical from Cuba.

"I loved Cuba. It got me hooked on public health. I was also so amazed at how healthy and happy, the people were," she gushed.

"I love Fidel. Fidel is so awesome, I am not saying he is perfect, but he loves people, he wants the best for his people, he is very hard with criminals, he prioritises children, he prioritises education, he prioritises health and he tries," she said, palms pressed together like a starry eyed teenager who has just met her movie star crush in person.

Dr Knight's love affair with Cuba didn't stop when she came back to Jamaica. She along with a colleague started the Jamaica Cuban Medical Association, where they collaborated with Cuba to induct students on holidays from that country, to University of the West Indies, Mona Campus school system. They also taught them the English jargons for medical phrases and introduced them to the Jamaica culture.

While the programme was very successful, Dr Knight had less time to give to it, when she became a board member for Medical Association of Jamaica. She was also a medical officer of health for St Catherine, an acting director in the Ministry of Health, and the medical director of the UWI Medical Centre on Campus, in addition to being the founding member of the Jamaica Midlife Health Society.

The walls of her cosy office at the Ligueanea Post Mall bears testimony to her vast accomplishments over the years. She possesses a first degree in Biology, Zoology and biochemistry and a Masters in Public Health, both from UWI. She had also worked for several years at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and was a Fulbright scholar to Emory University where she focused on public health financing and chronic disease and cancer management.

Dr Knight is currently on the board of the Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology. This is an international organisation that allows members to do international consultancies as Fullbrighters. One of her most recent consultancy was in Dubai where she and five other colleagues toured the city and offered their expertise in how the country could better foster sustainable development.

"Dubai is a world, not of this world," the doctor beamed as she shamelessly shared how she unsuccessfully tried to scrape the gold off the wall of the palace belonging to the founder of the United Arabs Emerits because she was so enamoured with it's classy and expensive decor.

Dr Knight has always loved traveling. At the age of 15 and just graduated from the Knox High School in Mandeville, she convinced her father who is a pastor and her mother, to let her go to South America.

"Don't ask how I got my parents to do it, I organise this letter and it was days and days of convincing," said the third of five girls for her parents, who said she was tired of school although she had accomplished many things there, including being the head girl and student counsel president. She spent more than a year teaching English to natives in Columbia and Venezuela before eventually coming back to Jamaica to study at UWI.

Despite being offered many opportunities to work abroad, the doctor was adamant that she has no inclination to leave her beloved country. She just hopes that she can make a meaningful contribution, because despite her immense success, she still doesn't feel she has done enough; at least, "not yet" she said.




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