Dr Geoffrey Dale Williams - surgeon and health practitioner extraordinaire
With Jamaica now poised to be a force in medical tourism, a name that is certain to come to the fore as a pioneer is Dr Geoffrey Dale Williams - surgeon and health practitioner extraordinaire.
Dr Williams was recently recognised for his contribution to the health services and in particular to the advancement of surgery in Jamaica by the Association of Surgeons in Jamaica (ASJ). Dr Williams is also credited for the establishment of the first private hospital in the tourist capital of Montego Bay.
Actually, in May 1984, long before health and wellness became buzz words in tourism circles, Dr Williams was the initiator and driving force behind the group that finally opened the Doctors Hospital - joining Hargreaves in Mandeville as the only private hospitals outside of Kingston.
Doctors Hospital, later to be named Doctors Surgi-Clinic, has grown to become one of the leading private health-care facilities in western Jamaica, and Dr Williams has managed it for most of its 33 years.
As his colleague and friend Dr Delroy Fray puts it: "The success of 'doctors'is, of course, intimately connected to Dr Williams' private practise. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, when medical tourism becomes well-established in Jamaica and its history is being written, Dr Williams will be recognised as a pioneer in this area. This is because he attracts patients to his clinic, not only from Jamaica, but also from the wider Caribbean and North America. His knowledge of the cost comparisons between Jamaica and North America as it relates to hospital and operating room fees, has been incorporated into official discussions dealing with the benefits of medical tourism to Jamaica."
Born in Clarendon, Dr Williams spent his childhood in neighbouring Manchester, where his parents were posted as teachers. After primary school, he was sent off to boarding school at Munro College, in St Elizabeth, where science became his passion.
Following his years at Munro, he entered medical school at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, graduating in 1973 with honours in Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O & G)
"I flirted briefly with the idea of pursuing a career in O & G, but soon came to my senses and decided on a surgical one," Dr Williams said.
Following an internship at the Kingston Public Hospital and with the world at his feet, the young aspiring surgeon went off to the United States where he completed his plastic surgery residency at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, and a Burn Fellowship at the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Eager to return home, he turned down numerous offers to stay in the United States, and instead moved to Montego Bay in July of 1981 to work at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, where he has remained since.
"I consider myself very lucky to actually love and enjoy what I do," Dr Williams told Outlook. "I still get great satisfaction in performing the various surgeries that fall in my speciality. So, for me to be honoured for doing what I love, is akin to having one's cake and eating it too."
To say Dr Williams has contributed immensely to the health services in Jamaica, would, as his legion of admirers readily agree, "be putting it mildly". However, if there is one specific area where his work has been exemplary and, as some would say, is in a class of its own, that would certainly be in the field of plastic surgery.
On his return to Jamaica, Dr Williams' contribution was immediate, as he was asked to set up the first plastic surgery service at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.
This he achieved with often less than optimal staffing and equipment, and today the plastic surgery services at Cornwall are among the most highly-regarded.
Not only is it well organised, but the numerous referrals directed to it are dealt with expeditiously. Various surgical specialities rely on the plastic surgery team for coverage of extensive wounds, but perhaps the greatest beneficiaries are the orthopaedic patients with severe compound fractures.
"One of the things that struck me on my return to Jamaica was the large number of untreated paediatric plastic surgery cases cleft lips and palates, burn scar contractures," Dr Williams noted. He continued: "As a member of an international voluntary plastic surgery organisation out of Stanford University, called Interplast, I solicited their help in taking care of this large backlog of cases."
To his peers, Dr Williams' contribution to the Cornwall Regional Hospital has been immeasurable. "He is regarded as an institution within that institution, respected by all and loved by most, and that is because of his impeccable manners and his treatment of all regardless of title or rank with the utmost respect," Dr Fray further pointed out.
"The hallmark of his tenure at Cornwall has been the commitment he has shown over the years. Here is a man who would often plan to have his burn patients taken to the operating theatre at 5 or 6 a.m., so as not to interfere with its routine running. The treatment of his patients is a model for all to follow."
Don't look for Dr Williams to slow down anytime soon! "The one word that has managed to elude my vocabulary is the word retirement," he noted. "As long as the good Lord will keep my hands steady and my eyes sharp, I will continue to practise my craft. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing."