One man's journey through children's homes to become a doctor

BY H G HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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HE spent more than half of his life in children's homes, all the time demonstrating grit and determination that he would realise his dream of becoming a medical doctor.

Now, pointing the age arrow to 33 by Christmas Day, Josiah Obediah Wilson has done most of the hard work and has qualified to be truly called 'Doctor'.

The young doctor has been on the staff of the Type B medical institution — the Annotto Bay Hospital in his parish of birth, St Mary, for three years. His connect with young ones on the paediatric ward has earned him nods of approval from those in charge and others with whom he interacts.

But how did the man who was born at the Annotto Bay Hospital in 1985 manage to hurdle so many of life's challenges and end up being the envy of many of his peers?

“I had been assigned to the hospital and posted in the lab for the final period of my internship from CASE (College of Agriculture, Science and Education) when Dr Ray Fraser (now head of surgery and recently retired senior medical officer — SMO) came inside the lab, looked at me and said 'You, you come from CASE?' And I said, 'yes, Sir'. He said to me: 'I have a scholarship for you, you nuh … you want it? …it's a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba.'

“Now I have always wanted to become a doctor, so I said to Dr Fraser, For real?' And then it flashed in my head that Cubans speak Spanish. I have never done Spanish in my life, so I told him I would think about it and he said 'no bother think too long you nuh'. By the evening I told him I would accept the scholarship,” Dr Wilson told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.

“Getting that scholarship to Cuba was one of the best feelings. Here I was, finally getting something that I really wanted to do. Words cannot explain it,” he went on.

Long before the Cuban air carrier could land him in that socialist country's capital, Havana, Dr Wilson would leave an indelible impression on folks along the trail that would lead him to CASE in west Portland.

When his parents, who had lived at scenic Castleton Gardens in the parish, decided to go their separate ways, he and two older brothers ended up soon after at the Maxfield Park Children's Home in St Andrew East Central. A few months later they would be transferred to the Swift Purscell Boys Home on the outskirts of Jamaica's second-largest community by area, Belfield, and on the fringes of the more developed town of Highgate.

At the time of the parental split he was not yet three, and by the time he got to four he was at Swift Purscell.

Maintaining good academic achievements at Belfield All-Age, and later the nearby Clonmel Primary and Junior High, Wilson was placed at the St Mary Technical High School based upon his work in the GSAT examination. He has evidence of his academic achievements to show, which included awards for outstanding performance, top boy, most disciplined, among others.

Hustling off to CASE to start the first phase of his medical mission, Wilson wrapped up an associate degree in natural science which propelled him closer to medical school and being placed under the microscope of Dr Fraser, who had been discreetly doing his research on the intern.

Wilson left for Cuba in 2006 to start his seven-year mission, courtesy of a scholarship from the Government of that country through its Kingston-based embassy. The trip initially had its hiccups but became smoother as the days passed.

“Being in Cuba was not difficult because we had to live in a dorm and I was raised in a boys' home setting where you just follow instructions. Cuba was a similar setting. It didn't bother me at all. Spanish at first was a challenge and I, being a shy person — Spanish is an expressive language. I have a little stutter at times from nervousness and also the food was a problem in Cuba, seeing that I did not have the luxury to take everything from Jamaica, so I had to go along with the Cuban food, unlike a classmate of mine who could take all his food from Jamaica.

“The Cuban culture was kind of different than Jamaica, Jamaica was Christian-like; Cuba largely liberal. Initially we did Spanish in the classroom for three months. After that we had to go out in the street and that is where I really started understanding the language. In less than a year I was fluent in Spanish.

“In the classroom, where you had to get up and talk, it was a challenge. When I'm out of the classroom and go out to interact with people on a one-to-one basis, that worked. When there are four or five persons gathered and having a conversation, then I have a problem.

“I used to look in the mirror and talk to myself, record myself. I tried everything, everyone was showing me different ways of how to speak Spanish and some did not work. But by the time I was in first-year medicine, Spanish was not a problem,” Wilson stated.

After his stay in Cuba, where he shared study time between the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana and the Faculda Dos in Santiago, he returned to Jamaica in 2013 to undergo his observership in the Corporate Area, spread across the Kingston Public Hospital, the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Victoria Jubilee Hospital, and the National Chest Hospital.

But there were still a few things that the ambitious six foot, three-inch intern needed to do in order to become relevant.

“I reached out again to Dr Fraser, because I had the CamC (Caribbean Association of Medical Councils) exam to do. I told him I wanted to return to Annotto Bay to prepare for the CamC. Dr Fraser was my mentor. I knew he must have had good tips for me, seeing that he had also done the exam after his studies in Cuba. I wasted some time and he was very upset, of course, but I eventually passed on the second go. The first go I wasn't focused. That was 2015 and now I am on course for better things.”

And what about specialisation? “Yes, I plan to but I'm not sure exactly what yet. I'm more leaning towards dermatology and paediatrics, or obstetrics and gynaecology.”

Coming from a background of being raised in children's homes and going on to gain a medical degree, some would see that as an achievement of monumental proportions. But for Dr Wilson, the work has only begun.

“I have accomplished a lot but I am still under-accomplished, because I still havent' specialised yet. I have more to accomplish. I know people will say I have accomplished a lot, but I still don't have that satisfaction in myself,” was his response to the Sunday Observer.

As for his tenure at the rapidly rising hospital, the atmosphere there has kept his blood pumping at acceptable levels.

“Compared to other hospitals that I have worked in Kingston, here, everybody takes care of each other,” he said of the 244-bed facility.

“It's a family setting. I feel comfortable, especially with the paediatric team that I am on. We are friends there. The working environment is very good. Annotto Bay has a very loving atmosphere. The hospital has a family life.

“Dr Fraser, as the SMO, has been there for me and since Dr Powell has taken over as SMO, he has been very good, very understanding. The hospital is perfect for me.”

Of his family, his brothers now live in the United States, one being a nurse who is completing his bachelor's degree in nursing, while the other is a mechanic. They form a close bond and keep in touch. But that is not the same story for his biological parents.

“I'm still not so close to my parents. My father knew that he left us, so he really doesn't try to be active in our lives. He actually lives at the house that my brothers and I bought in Kingston and we take care of him, while my mother lives in Golden Spring (St Andrew).

Questions regarding why he and his brothers were sent to children's homes have not been addressed in the sober, cultured manner he would like. But he was quick to point out that even though his parents turned his back on him, he is “not one bit bitter”.

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