Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Dr James Mills - creating his own success

Published:Sunday | February 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMRocheda Bartley

Life is definitely what you make it. Your purpose and victories depend solely on you. Good life choices can get you as far as you want to go, maybe climb the highest mountain or swim the deepest sea. But you can only be a winner and write your success story if you understand and accept that your future rests in your hands and it's up to you to either toss it aside or send it in a promising direction.

Ghanaian Dr James Mills, a prominent researcher and consultant on stress and stress-related illnesses, and former medical educator and practitioner in Jamaica, understood this early. And this understanding made him the man he is today.

As a boy growing up in Accra, the capital of Ghana, Mills was driven by a burning desire to always excel and be the best. He aced his classes, outperformed his peers, and surpassed expectations. But, his life in Ghana was no paradise.


Rough in Ghana


"Growing up in Ghana was rough. It was similar to what I experienced in Jamaica when I came here in 1978. The economy was poor, and you couldn't get things in the shop," he explained.

However, his excellent performance in school impressed his father, who made a sacrifice and sent him to live temporarily with relatives who could give him a better opportunity for success.

"At the time, I was nine years old and these persons were mostly teachers. When I went to live with them, it wasn't like home because I had to do some things that, as a small boy in primary school, I didn't want to do. But I decided to live there. By the treatment I got, I made a philosophy that I wanted to be better than them. It was then that I decided to be a doctor, because I knew there were no doctors in their family," Mills proudly recollected.

As the years passed, Mills decided that despite all the adversities, he had to accomplish his goal.

"I wanted to be a doctor, but there was no medical school in Ghana. At the time, under the British who were creating universities in the colonies, Ghana opted to do law instead of medicine. Countries like Nigeria, Uganda and Jamaica, in 1948, did medicine and Ghanaians could go to any of these countries or Britain. But, by 1964, Ghana decided to create a medical school but, I didn't want to go there," he explained.

So that year (1964), he left Ghana to study medicine and general surgery in Germany on a scholarship. He started his studies at the University of Mainz and completed at Dusseldorf. After university, Mills worked as a resident medical doctor and surgeon at the St Elizabeth Hospital in West Germany.


Coming to Jamaica


When it was time for him to return home, he didn't want to. He had a friend who was being recruited to Jamaica to serve as a professor at the University of the West Indies, and Mills decided to migrate here as well. He came with his wife and three children.

"When I came to Jamaica, I had to travel to Miami to buy common things like tomatoes. But, at the time, it was still better than Ghana," Mills said.

In the same year, Mills enrolled at the University of the West Indies where he studied physiology and later earned a PhD. This was also when he began his career as a researcher.


Forever a researcher


Although his greatest desire was to accomplish his goal of becoming a doctor, there was a part of him that wanted to be a teacher. Guided by a philosophy to achieve his life's goals, and educate, Mills became a lecturer and tutor at the university of the West Indies in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.

During his tenure with the medical faculty, he served as a coordinator of physiology in the surgery postgraduate programme leading to the doctorate of medicine; coordinator of research seminars in the Physiology Department; and coordinator of examinations in the Old Medical Curriculum of the Physiology Department.

He retired from teaching in 2016, but wanted to leave a mark. Before leaving he developed a course in structure and function, which the institution has been using since 2001 in the Faculty of Medical Sciences' curriculum.


Stress Consultant


Today Mills is focused on revolutionising how people and especially the medical fraternity think of stress.

"Stress is a defence mechanism, just like the skin and other organs. My mission is to educate people on stress and its related illnesses," Mills explained.

His interest in stress began when he was in medical school and has not faded since. Wherever he went across the world, he had to find a bookstore to get a book that would increase his knowledge on stress.

"The fact that I studied physiology further increased my interest in stress. Physiology along with medicine and surgery also widened my scope on stress by helping me to analyse things critically. Also, even while I was teaching at the UWI, I was teaching subjects that were about stress," Mills said.

Mills is a fellow of the American Institute of Stress. In 2016 he established Global Stress Solutions, a facility that seeks to help people identify their stress source and solve their stress related problems. He is the only known person throughout the world to measure stress. Yes, with technological instruments he can measure your stress levels in the same way you can measure your body temperature.

His wealth of knowledge on stress coupled with his mission to educate the public about stress led him to write The Scientific Principles of Stress, in 2012. This book became a best-seller on Amazon and made the New York Times Bestseller list.

He believes that despite all the beliefs people have about stress, there is an underlying fact that all should understand. "Stress is not a mental illness. But, mental illnesses can cause stress and it also goes the other way around where stress can cause mental illnesses."