No giving it all up

Retired CMO Ferdinand still sees much to be done

Dr Elizabeth Mary-Rose Ferdinand’s 35 years of service to Barbados’ public health has contributed to phenomenal changes and improvements to the island’s overall medical management sector.

Just two and a half weeks into her retirement, the 66-year-old old told Barbados TODAY, in an interview at her Skeete’s Road, Jackmans, St Michael home, that while she was satisfied with her contribution, it was with mixed feelings she had left the service she lived and loved as Acting Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health.

Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand showing off the signatures former work colleagues on one of her retirement cards.
Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand showing off the signatures former work colleagues on one of her retirement cards.

“I still feel like I can work, and I still feel there is a lot to be done.”

But she added: “I feel very thankful first of all to God for bringing me to this stage, and letting me reach an age where I can see retirement. I can see, hear, talk and still have my faculties about me. So that I really am thankful for.

“My family have had to put up with a lot when I had to go out to meetings at nights and to different functions, and the long hours; but they have been very supportive of me. To my colleagues, without them, we couldn’t have got through with the things that we wanted to do. A lot of my staff have been wonderful and most of them go beyond their call of duty.

“There are a few who don’t pull their weight, but . . . there are a few who have been extra special,” Ferdinand said, sitting in the comfort of her dining room.

The camera-shy, but well spoken, articulate and knowledgeable mother of two took a stroll down memory lane, reflecting on her years in the service, and how exactly she got there.

The Guyanese-born thought it essential to first show the strong medical background of her family. Her father was a doctor; her grandfather, a pharmacist; and her sister, a dentist –– not to mention the several aunts who were nurses.

And, Ferdinand now has her fingers crossed in the hope her granddaughter does not discard her plans of becoming a doctor.

After Ferdinand graduated in 1973 from the University of the West Indies, Mona, with a first degree in medicine, she made her way to England where she successfully did her internship. That was immediately followed by another personal accomplishment: the marriage to her Barbadian sweetheart Timothy Linton, whom she met while living in England.

Around 1976, Ferdinand and her better half, as she affectionately calls him, returned to Barbados with their then young daughter.

Soon after her arrival in the island, she took up a substitute position at the Barbados Family Planning Association, where she spent three months before moving on to the Accident & Emergency Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

She recalled: “I learnt a lot about medicine in Casualty. But I had a family, and I found that it was a bit hectic. So, I moved then into the laboratory and worked for a while there. And then I worked a little in Paediatrics; and moved in then to the National Nutrition Centre, where we looked at malnutrition in children in Barbados.”

In the quest to boost her qualifications and become more marketable in her field, Ferdinand took up a scholarship through the Pan American Health Organization to the Havard School of Public Health in the United States.

“Then I came back to Barbados and continued working at the Nutrition Centre; and the then Chief Medical Officer said to me, ‘Look, we need medical officers of health at the polyclinics. I then became Medical Officer of Health initially at the St Philip Polyclinic, and soon after then to Maurice Byer Polyclinic, where I spent most of my time before I was promoted to Senior Medical Officer, and came to the ministry initially in charge of Environmental Health –– because that is what
I really loved.

“After a while, they needed my services over on the nursing side and they asked me to take over the polyclinics from the maternal and child health and general practice part of it. I switched over and I stayed there all the time,” Ferdinand continued.

The doctor has quite a long list of achievements and accomplishments, the greatest of which, she has declared, would be much of a difficult task in choosing.

However, in outlining a few, she held that her work with immunization in Barbados and other countries in evaluating their vaccination programmes; assisting local and regional disaster management agencies to develop thorough emergency plans; and chairing a task force to implement health information systems, which should be in place between the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and two polyclinics by November, have all been rewarding ventures.

What are Ferdinand’s views on Barbados’ health care system?

Without batting an eye, her diagnosis was that while there was always room for improvement, Barbadians should be grateful they were privileged to have one of the best health care systems in the world.

But as she leaves national medical management, she yet sees things she would have liked to seen done, which haven’t been. However, she has charged officials and stakeholders with the task of continuing the gains Barbados has already achieved in child health, maternal health, curative care; and striving forward as it relates to new and emerging chronic diseases and cancers.

“I think we have a very good health care system. When you look at so many countries in the world where their population cannot easily access health care because they do not have the staff that we have for our population . . . ! They have to pay a fortune for medicines. And there are a lot of specialists that we have that many countries don’t.

“Yes, we may not be as up to date as the very well developed countries –– and that’s really and truly because of the cost of technology and training –– but our staff and our health care service is very good,” Ferdinand said quite convincingly.

“We have moved from a country that has had infectious diseases to one of chronic diseases, and definitely there is a lot to be done on chronic diseases. But we must not forget that we have to still keep up the work that we have done as it relates to infectious diseases in the children’s health, in the mothers health, because if we let that slide, we would be looking for trouble again.”

As to what Ferdinand will be doing in her retirement (a question she has been asked constantly recently), she will be “keeping busy”.

The caring grandmother is dutifully taking the last of her three beloved granddaughters to and from nursery on mornings and evenings, while keeping herself preoccupied with other errands during the day. And very soon, she will be packing her suitcases and heading for Geneva to participate in a Working Group Of The Decade Of Vaccines, organized by the World Health Organisation.

A happy Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand with a picture of her and two of her granddaugters whom she plans on spending much more time with now that she has retired.
A happy Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand with a picture of her and two of her granddaugters whom she plans on spending much more time with now that she has retired.

When she returns, after a tour of Europe as well, she plans to not sit and let her professional expertise die, but rather look around to see where she can offer
consultancy services.


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