Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Bitter medicine - Aspiring doctors rejected by UWI amid space, tuition dilemma

Published:Monday | September 28, 2020 | 12:16 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Esther Thomas (right) and her mother, Keisha Ann Thomas, assistant pastor of the Pentecostal Gospel Showers church in Riverton City, discuss the disappointment of Esther not being accepted by The UWI to study medicine.
Esther Thomas (right) and her mother, Keisha Ann Thomas, assistant pastor of the Pentecostal Gospel Showers church in Riverton City, discuss the disappointment of Esther not being accepted by The UWI to study medicine.
Isaac Dunkley plays the drums at the Pentecostal Gospel Showers church in Riverton City on Sunday. Dunkley, an avid participant in church, fears he will miss out on his dream of studying medicine.
Isaac Dunkley plays the drums at the Pentecostal Gospel Showers church in Riverton City on Sunday. Dunkley, an avid participant in church, fears he will miss out on his dream of studying medicine.
Danielle Lewis congratulates Isaac Dunkley on his examination achievements after a church service at Pentecostal Gospel Showers on Sunday. Dunkley and Esther Thomas were among a group of students celebrated for exceptional results.
Danielle Lewis congratulates Isaac Dunkley on his examination achievements after a church service at Pentecostal Gospel Showers on Sunday. Dunkley and Esther Thomas were among a group of students celebrated for exceptional results.
Isaac Dunkley and his mother Irishteen Dunkley discuss his grim prospects after not being accepted to study medicine at The University of the West Indies. Isaac, who has 19 grade ones at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and Caribbean Advanced
Isaac Dunkley and his mother Irishteen Dunkley discuss his grim prospects after not being accepted to study medicine at The University of the West Indies. Isaac, who has 19 grade ones at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination levels, can't find the $4 million needed to fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor.
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The heartache of two brilliant Jamaican teenagers who have had their applications to study medicine at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, rejected exemplifies the dilemma that many parents and students face despite eye-popping exam results.

Isaac Dunkley and Esther Thomas, who both worship at a church in the bowels of one of Kingston’s poorest inner-city communities, are now mulling over their future after having their dreams of becoming medical doctors deferred because of the double dilemma of high-stakes competition and stratospheric fees.

The 19-year-old duo, who attend two of Jamaica’s most prestigious high schools, have racked up a combined total of 35 passes in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), the levers of matriculation from grade 13.

Dunkley, a recent graduate of Campion College in St Andrew, secured nine ones in CSEC and 10 grade ones between units one and two of CAPE.

Thomas, a recent graduate of Immaculate Conception High School, faces a similar predicament. She attained eight ones in CSEC. In CAPE, she notched six ones and two twos.

The credits are currently under investigation because of reported anomalies.

GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT

Both have been referred to read for undergraduate degrees in science and technology. Esther, under the urging of her mother, Keisha Ann Thomas, has accepted the lesser offer “reluctantly”, while Isaac has opted out. His dream is to do medicine. Full stop.

Irishteen Dunkley said that Isaac’s determination to become a doctor would not allow him to settle for a science and technology degree.

The rejection has caused disappointment to the family.

Irishteen and husband Norman Dunkley once lived in the rough-hewn community of Riverton City, where Kingston’s dump is located. But Esther and Isaac’s academic excellence is proof that there are jewels to be found in the oft-scorned community.

And even though the Dunkleys no longer reside there, their Christian conviction has kept them close to their roots and the heartbeat of their hope.

Isaac was not among the dozens of Jamaicans who got a government grant to study medicine at Mona and is unable to foot the US$28,000 (J$4-million) tuition fee for students who do not receive the subvention.

“Mi cry ‘bout it because how can you see a person with 19 ones, and you overlook them?” said Mrs Dunkley, conceding that the family could not find the funds.

Isaac hasn’t applied to overseas universities because he is a nationalist, Mrs Dunkley said, holding to the philosophy that a person must build his own country.

“Even when people a encourage him fi apply abroad, him naw do dat. Overseas colleges will swallow him up, but him still want to pursue medicine out here. I stand behind him reapplying,” the hopeful mother told The Gleaner on Sunday at the Pentecostal Gospel Showers church in Riverton, where Isaac plays the drums.

Esther wants to become a paediatric surgeon and had received conditional acceptance and offers for part scholarships from at least three universities overseas. But her heart was on The UWI.

“She did not accept the offers because she was bent on studying at home. UWI responded to say no, in her own country,” said Esther’s mom.

“I really have an issue with us not prioritising our young people in this kind of way.”

The cries of despair have become a recurrent soundtrack at the beginning of every academic year amid a placement crisis that is amplified as more qualified students jockey for limited space in medicine.

UWI Registrar Dr Donovan Stanberry told The Gleaner Sunday evening that there are about 280 spaces for medical students at Mona – approximately half of which are allotted to those coming from other CARICOM countries.

And of the 140 spots left for Jamaican students, 55 are allocated to students who received government grants covering 80 per cent of tuition fees.

That leaves a rat race for the remaining 85 places, with waiting students from previous years reapplying. The upshot: stiff competition for a cherished space in the Faculty of Medicine.

“Invariably, a reservoir of people in a given year who would try the following year would have qualified,” Stanberry told The Gleaner.

The UWI sought to reassure Isaac and others that their dreams were not shattered and that the university was in dialogue with a number of students who had made last-gasp pleas.

“Some private-sector people might come on board to help,” said Stanberry.

Isaac, who has used his burly physique to star for Campion in rugby, has praised sponsors such as Alex Imports and Ashtrom for keeping his educational dreams alive over the years.

“In every obstacle, they have always found a way, and by the grace of God, they always came out,” the youngest of three children said.

Persons willing to offer Isaac Dunkley financial help may do so through National Commercial Bank account number 364 710 135, Portmore branch.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com