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Stabroek News

David Burton - Doctor in training
published: Sunday | August 13, 2006

Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
Burton: The past four weeks I have been working in A&E (accidents and emergency) and general surgery and it's been great!

Glenda Anderson, Outlook Writer

Narrow corridors jammed with screaming, bloody patients, exhausted doctors making split-second, life or death decisions using rustic equipment and limited drugs, while outside the shrill echo of an ambulance's siren wails, signalling perhaps a gunshot victim?

With the graphic details of the England-based Sky TV's 1990s documentary, Jamaica ER, fresh in his mind, 23-year-old England-born David Burton happily signed on for what he hoped would be an action-packed summer attachment at Jamaica's Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), the English-speaking Caribbean's oldest hospital, an imposing set of buildings connected by modern steel and concrete bridges, squashed between four volatile inner-city communities in downtown Kingston.

He was not disappointed.

"The past four weeks I have been working in A&E (accidents and emergency) and general surgery and it's been great! That's been the best work experience I've ever had really. I've actually got to examine the patients, I've got to follow the medical students around and take part in surgeries," he says of his six-week stint. He says he has seen the gory and the benign, made friends and adjustments.

He has worked the graveyard shift, sleeping on the hospital's compound, had weekly seminars and daily doctors' rounds with University of the West Indies medical students.

Nervous excitement

He has scrubbed, donned gown and glove and remembers the nervous excitement he felt when asked to perform delicate eye surgery (sealing a split eyelid under a microscope).

He has even had to deal with the death of a patient (from a stabbing) before his eyes, and will never forget the caution of a senior doctor on the difference between 'shortness of breath' and asthma in local patients, and how grave a misdiagnosis of either can be. 'Jamaican ER' aside, he says he was deeply struck by both the cleanness and care taken in the operating process and the extreme skill of the Jamaican doctors. A second year medical student at Sheffield University in the United Kingdom (U.K.) Burton's 'good fortune' came when, after applying and being accepted to GraceKennedy's Birthright Programme, on arrival in the island two companies subsequently cancelled his attachment. One was no longer associated with the programme, the other simply had no work for him.

This did not deter the young man raised by a single mom, who had encountered racism, to emerge one of only two black boys, and the only Jamaican English boy in a medical year group of 264 students at Sheffield University.

He gleefully accepted a KPH placement, chalked it up to destiny and hails it as a move which has changed his life forever.


"I just wanted to see what KPH was like, as I had heard so much about it. When I tell my friends back home I'm working at KPH they go 'aaah, but that's really dangerous', but I'd tried to clear my mind of all preconceptions and really just come and see for myself what it was really like."

International student attachments such as David's are, however, nothing new to KPH, says Dr. Trevor McCartney, deputy dean (UWI) in charge of all non-UWI programmes.

"What is not known is that KPH is an extension of the UWI, we share equally the students trained at UWI, half at KPH and half at the UWI. Because of that type of involvement we have people coming down to us from all over the world. We also accommodate Jamaicans trained in the non-traditional areas, for example, persons trained in Cuba and Russia. In the last five years it has been more institutionalised due to increase in enrolment at the university, but certainly it has been happening for surgery in the last 20 years and the last 10 years in medicine and all other disciplines," he says.

Rarely, he says, are students spooked by the hospital's location, or the horror stories in the media.

"He seems to be enjoying it," Dr. McCartney says of the awestruck, soft-spoken young man.

In fact, Burton's trip back home started with his own desire as a second-generation Jamaican - to see Jamaica - warts and all - for himself. Apart from two vacations to visit family in Cross Keys, Manchester, titbits from his grandfather and members of the small Jamaican community in Sheffield, he did not know much about the island.

"I just wanted to come and see if all the stuff I had heard were true or not true, whether the bad things were really so or the good things were so."

Main goals

Now he has two main goals; to convince more young black youth to focus on higher education and to drum up support among his colleagues and peers for new equipment for the hospital.

"When I go back to my country I am going to be telling all the people I know that basically you'd be a fool really to miss out on this experience. Its very competitive to get in (birthright programme), but you can't lose from education either way, a black boy with a degree already has an edge."

His heart, though, is set on giving back to KPH.

"Some of the equipment is so old, like the only time I ever saw those before were in old texts back home. Equipment could be funded and this needs to be top priority. I'm looking at (partnership links for) investment with private sector overseas."

The GraceKennedy Jamaican Birthright Programme is an all-expense paid cultural and professional internship geared at highlighting all aspects of Jamaican life, while furthering the career goals of the participants. It is designed to give the successful candidates a well-rounded Jamaican experience.

Over a two-month period (mid June-mid August) the interns will work on rotation within one or more of the companies within the GraceKennedy group to gain hands-on experience in a range of industries, while incorporating professional interests into the work schedule. Students with a B average and above form part of the yearly quota of six chosen for the programme from the U.K. and North America. Deadline for application is November 30.

  • Personal Data

    Name: David St. Michael Burton

    Date of Birth: December 4, 1982

    Parents: Carmelita Duncan, Trevor Burton

    Education: King Edward VII Secondary School, Firsthill Junior School, University of Sheffield.

    Qualifications: Degree - orthoptics; University of Sheffield; second year - medicine

    Experience: Worked for Birmingham Midland Eye centre, second largest hospital dedicated to eye care.

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