by KATHERINE RENTON
WHILE HE HAS observed the quantity and quality of medical professionals greatly increase in the 40 years that he has been practising in this country, one area in which Obstetrician/ Gynaecologist Dr Timothy Providence wants to see improvement is better training of medical staff to deal with the public.
Marking 70 years of life on April 9 of this year, Dr Providence is one of the country’s most experienced medical practitioners.
His journey began with him living a “usual rural boy childhood” in the village of Troumaca, and succeeding in passing his scholarship examination to go to the St Vincent Grammar School.
He recalled in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT this week that he never considered anything else, “I just wanted to be a doctor all my life.”
Providence was awarded the lone “island scholarship” in 1969 to do just this, and left for University of the West Indies (UWI) Medical School in Jamaica. He graduated in 1974, after which he moved to The Bahamas for his internship. The young doctor returned to Jamaica to complete postgraduate studies in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, finishing this in 1981.
While the opportunity was there for him to take up a lecturer position at the University, he turned it down because he wanted to return to his country to serve the people. There were times this was very difficult, but he concluded that he “managed to survive”.
“I remember quite clearly it was on the 3rd of January 1982 I went to the maternity ward at the hospital, and at that time the first thing that struck me was that there was no structure, no antenatal ward, no postnatal ward, no nothing. And indeed I found women lying on a bed head to foot,” he revealed.
“Two women on one bed head to foot, I thought ‘my Goodness Gracious me’! That was difficult for me to accept at that time.”
“I said to myself from that point in time it will never ever happen again, women might be poor, but you know, we all have some dignity and it has never happened, as I recall, again, in my tenure in the Government service,” Dr Providence said.
When asked if he stepped in, he confirmed, “I did, right away. We had to do it, with the help of some really dedicated nursing staff, I was able to really get down to work and got things done…” and set a base.
“I think if you ask anyone now working in the hospital what’s the best Department they ever worked in, I think they will tell you that the Obstetrical Unit is in fact one of the better units because of the base that was set in those days, in the old days,” the doctor related.
Providence worked for a number of years as a consultant OB-GYN and as time went on he rose to the position of Director at what was then the Kingstown General Hospital, which brought with it a different set of challenges. He retired at 55 years old, in a move, he says, to make way for younger persons.
Now, he is involved in private practice once a week, and spends his downtime gardening. He is also busy being a husband, father of five, and grandfather to four.
In response to questions about the evolution of the health services over time, he pondered before responding, “the most dramatic improvement they’ve had in my lifetime in the field of medicine is the increasing numbers of staff in the hospital or generally in the health service, the doctors, and nurses etc. over the 40 years I’ve been here.”
Providence, who in the beginning worked as the only Obstetrician on the island 24 hours a day for almost four years, says that the increase has been “tremendous” in both number and training of doctors in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“In addition to that, the technical aspect of it and the Laboratory service has improved,” he said.
However, on the topic of lack, he stated, “what I would like to see most of all is better training for our medical staff in terms of how to deal with the public.”
“We tend to adopt an attitude that ‘we know it all’ and don’t really talk to our patients and get them involved in their own care, that is one area that I would like to see us improve in.”
It is no surprise then that the advice he often gives to younger doctors is that “the whole purpose of going to do medicine is not to get rich.”
“…You will never get rich out of medicine in St Vincent and the Grenadines, I think. You can’t, but you can enjoy it, you can make a living. But you always have to treat people with respect.”
Finally, he noted to the young practitioners, “Be honest and fair with people and deal with them in the right way and you will find that your life is so much easier.”
Additionally as it relates to health service, he commented, “We can always improve the technology and to get more access to tertiary care.” He hopes that in the future there may be shared regional services for tertiary care.
However, medical services are currently also burdened with coping with the deadly respiratory COVID-19 disease.
“…There’s no doubt that it will get worse before it gets better,” the doctor responded, to questions asked.
“It’s really hard to say, but it may take more people dying,” before persons understand, “that the vaccine works and it helps.”
He said that the information is available and anyone who says they are waiting to make a decision, or the science is not clear, “that is not true.”
However, at this stage in his life, he chooses not to get into arguments or discussions on the subject.
On a general note, the medical professional advised, “We need to look at our public health. Our public health is critical, our diet, what we eat, exercise, what we put into our body, all that is important in the overall maintenance of people’s health, and I would urge Vincentians to take care of themselves, their bodies, and going down the road, that would definitely improve the overall health of the nation in terms of our chronic non-communicable diseases.”