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The rise of the real Mackoy - McNish’s journey from state ward to medical doctor

Published:Monday | September 2, 2019 | 12:00 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Gary Williams (left), chairman and founder of COJO, and Rosalee Gage-Grey (right), CEO of the then Child Development Agency, pose with the 2014 scholarship winners. From second left are Kemar Henry, Ruth Ann Hamilton, Judi-Ann Oldacre and Mackoy McNish while athletes Yohan Blake (right) and Kemar Bailey-Cole share in the moment at back.
Scholarship awardee Mackoy McNish (fourth left) is seen with Elizabeth Phillips (fifth left), trustee, and David Martin (centre), managing director of JP Tropical Foods, and other recipients (from left): Kateland Watson, Tyrone McKie, Jemmela Clarke, Shereen LaTouche, Sasha-Gay Smellie, Jodean McKane and Anika Harris in this August 2018 photo.
Mackoy McNish
MacKoy McNish

Mackoy McNish’s mother was raped when she was 15 years old and opted out of an abortion.

Her son was separated from her at birth and became a registered ward of the state after she liaised with the then Child Development Agency (CDA) – now the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) – to have him adopted.

The 24-year-old is now a medical doctor, and as he reflected on his journey with The Gleaner, he said becoming a ward of state was the best option for him.

“What they did was to put me on a programme at the time called home on trial. I was placed in a neighbouring community with a lady named Miss Gladys, from Hill Top in Belfield [in St Mary],” he said.

McNish was reunited with his mother when he was about three years old, when she had completed high school.

“She was volunteering at the clinic after she had finished [high school] and then she got an opportunity to go to Kingston School of Nursing. At the time, it was free and she was getting a stipend,” the young doctor said.

While his mother pursued higher education in Kingston, McNish was left in the care of an aunt in St Mary. His mother would send back a portion of the stipend to cover his primary-school expenses.

He said as part of the home on trial programme, he was assigned an officer.

“I had an agent – a child development officer who was always checking on me. They did home visits to see what was happening and to get updates,” he said.

“I didn’t know anything about the [rape] incident until primary school. I never used to ask about a father. I was in primary school when the guidance counsellor called me into the office and discussed it with me.”

McNish said the perpetrator was imprisoned and that he saw him a couple times in the community after he was released. He also learnt that he died recently.

Changing focus, academic success and engaging Plan B

The youngster kept himself occupied in order to not dwell on his circumstances. He joined the Boy Scouts at St Mary High School while in first form and rose to become the leader of the organisation in sixth form.

“One of the things that grounded me, that helped me to keep my focus, was when I was in Scouts. The Scout leader was a good mentor for us,” he told The Gleaner.

McNish said he was also a member of the 4-H Club, where he learnt the art of beekeeping. This was an exciting activity for him and he would always look forward to visiting the farm to check on the hive in the afternoons.

When McNish sat 10 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, he was awarded nine ones and a two.

His child development officer continued to keep tabs on him, and he was soon invited to an awards ceremony for wards of the state who had done well in Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) and CSEC.

He copped four ones and four twos in CAPE and applied to The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, to pursue studies in medicine.

“I just chose subjects that I did well in, and I did well in the sciences,” he explained.

He did not initially harbour a dream of becoming a doctor, but once he got accepted to medical school, he channelled all his efforts into pressing on to the end.

“It was US$28,000 per year (J$3.5 million), for five years, and I think the Government sponsored half of it. The offer [of a space at The UWI] had expired because I didn’t know where the [rest of the] money was going to come from, so I didn’t sign the offer. I actually started school at UTech (University of Technology, Jamaica). I did pharmaceutical technology for a week,” he said.

His Plan B, McNish explained, was more affordable. In any event, it would be easier to get a student loan to cover it.

“I had spoken to my CDA officer, who had advised me to write to the CEO at the time, who was Mrs Gage-Grey, and Mrs Budhi,” McNish recalled.

Rosalee Gage-Grey was then CEO of the CDA and now heads the CPFSA, while Audrey Budhi was the director of children and family programme at the CDA.

“So I wrote to them and she responded. Mrs Gage-Grey called me and said I got a scholarship,” the young doc recalled. “I said, ‘A scholarship? I didn’t apply for any scholarship’, and she said there is a scholarship for former wards of the state through COJO (Children of Outreach Jamaica Inc).”

The scholarship was valued at US$5,000 and would only cover a portion of his tuition, but Gage-Grey’s words to him were, “Just start.”

Begged his way back into med school

Getting The UWI to now accept him was not easy. He had to explain that he was now willing to accept the offer, but he was told the offer was no longer on the table.

McNish’s persistence paid off when an officer told him that the registration portal would be reopened for seven days. He was warned that once he had signed, he could not withdraw his commitment.

The journey through medical school was not without obstacles, but scholarships always provided a cushion for him.

Shortly after registering at The UWI, he received a scholarship from the Portia Simpson Miller Foundation, which left him with extra funds which were transferred to his second year. Through the CDA, he sought sponsorship to fund the remainder of his second-year tuition.

Then he hit a snag.

“In third year, I was deregistered. I had to stop from the programme. They said I couldn’t continue because the payments were late,” McNish said, pointing out that he was out of school for roughly four weeks until he was able to make payments and was readmitted to the programme.

“It happened again while I was on a rotation. I got a letter to cease from the rotation. It was in the middle of the exam for that rotation, so I spoke with the consultant and she allowed me to do the exam, but I couldn’t continue to the next rotation,” he said. “It was really difficult. I had many low points, and I started having anxiety and panic attacks. I couldn’t take the bus to go back home. It was a really difficult time.”

McNish moved to Kingston for school, and through the Sydney Phillips Foundation for students from St Mary, his housing costs were cut in half.

“Final year was really challenging, but one of the good things about my journey in medical school was that I had good friends. I had a good support system. I met some friends from first year and they were there up until final year for me,” he said.

Plans to help other wards

McNish is currently on his one-year medical internship at the St Ann’s Bay Hospital and will graduate in November.

He has a vested interest in family medicine and primary care, which is geared towards preventative medicine, therefore easing the burden on the health sector.

McNish wants to become involved in the work of the CPFSA and intends to give back to wards of the state.

“I’m planning to start with free medicals with a group of my friends that I ended [medical school] with,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the help they gave me to achieve this dream. If it wasn’t for that programme, maybe I would have been directly in a home. I’ve been with them since birth and they have been following up for the most part.”

He added: “Once you are excelling in school or doing well enough, someone will be there to help you realise your dream,” McNish expressed.

His mother, who is now a registered nurse, is proud of what McNish has accomplished despite his difficult start in life.