#Nassau, June 25, 2019 – Bahamas –
Thank you for your invitation to be with you this afternoon. I add my acknowledgement to the established protocol.
Let me begin by congratulating the graduates of the medical class of 2019. The expressions, glow and relief on your faces remind me about my feelings after final exams some 30 years ago.
Before final exams, you wondered whether you knew enough and whether the examiners might ask things you did not fully know or might not remember. After the exams, there was some disappointment, because you weren’t asked not even five percent of what you studied.
Then, in the words of Scripture, joy came in the morning after the results sank in, and you were called Dr. for the first time. For me, as I am sure for many of you, it was the joy of being the first medical doctor in my family. I was proud to realize my own dreams and the dreams of my parents and family.
So today, fellow graduates, it is not just your day. It is also a day to celebrate your family, friends and the many others who supported you and helped to make your dream come true.
I add my own congratulations to that of your family members. They built the foundation for your successes as well as the rest of the structure you needed to sustain you through your journey through medical school.
But let me quickly remind you graduates, that after your great joy, you will soon face the realities of securing a job. This has become a challenge even starting out on your first job as an intern. It may be even more challenging being accepted into a postgraduate program.
Medicine has changed dramatically over the past decades. In my graduation class there were six Bahamians. Last year the Government of The Bahamas guaranteed 47 internship spots for Bahamian medical graduates of the UWI Faculty of Medical Sciences. Still, our physician resource needs remain.
We need more primary care physicians throughout the Family Islands, especially if they are to become greater platforms for economic and social development. We need to provide for a variety of specialist areas, especially in areas, like ENT, where senior physicians are retiring in fairly quick succession. The era of the general specialist is fast coming to an end.
Accordingly, I urge you to look beyond the DM programmes.
I urge you to provide a variety of subspecialty needs such as fetal and maternal medicine, developmental pediatrics, urogynecology and other areas.
I have to keep reminding the residents of New Providence, that Nassau is not The Bahamas. My responsibility as prime minister is the development of our entire far-flung island-chain.
Let me give you an example of the bounty and breadth of our archipelago of possibilities. In some ways, we are as much a region as we are a country.
The Bahamas from north to south occupies approximately the same geographical length of the United Kingdom from north to south. If you fly in a jet from Grand Bahama to Inagua, your trip will take one hour and 35 minutes. It is a distance of approximately 500 miles.
By comparison, the distance from Nassau to Jamaica is 450 miles. That flight would be 15 minutes shorter at one hour and twenty minutes.
Eighty percent of our tourism activity and 70 percent of our population is found on the two percent of our land, that of New Providence and Paradise Island. The other 98 percent of our far-flung archipelago have all of these same fundamental assets, but remain largely underdeveloped.
With this abundance of natural gifts, government alone cannot develop our archipelago in the diversity of sectors required for economic growth and expansion. The role of government is to help provide the Bahamian people and investors and international partners with the incentives to develop the Islands of The Bahamas.
To expand and grow our economy now, and for a better future for all Bahamians, will require the sustainable development of our Family of Islands and cays. This includes areas like health care and medicine.
The Bahamas is changing.
You should have a vision that takes advantage of the changes in the medium- and long-term.
After years of economic struggle, Grand Bahama is about to go through an economic boom because of two mega projects and a number of other developments. Already land values are rising for both commercial and residential properties.
Grand Bahama will need even more doctors and medical professionals.
For the past 15 years or more, Grand Bahama has been searching for a general surgeon. Our Bahamian general surgeons have yet to find a foothold or home on Grand Bahama, despite the recent increasing numbers of general surgery graduates both from UWI and in North America.
Islands like Abaco, Long Island and Exuma are going to see a surge in international second home owners. The numbers of tourists, including boaters, to our islands are increasing.
We are also providing incentives for Bahamians who want to build second homes in the Family Islands. These islands and others require new infrastructure, and services like medical care.
This is why we are modernizing health care facilities in various Family Islands as well as building new airports at Exuma, North Eleuthera and Long Island.
I invite you to adopt a pioneering spirit to be a resident specialist in the more populated family islands rather than being a monthly of weekly visitor to see a few patients.
You may be pleasantly surprised that you may have a better quality of life on the Family Island than you might competing with numerous doctors on New Providence. All of our major islands have the necessary communications technologies for commercial needs and personal needs like entertainment and the use of social media.
Land on which to build a home is typically less expensive on the Family Islands than on New Providence. Many of our islands have good primary and high schools and are good environments on which to raise children.
The entire Bahamas is your oyster.
The one downside may be that your parents, family and friends may never stop visiting you because they want a break from Nassau that may last months at a time.
Two years ago, the public service human resource database revealed that some 274 SHOs are employed in the government facilities of which only 28 percent are actively enrolled in a postgraduate programme. Forty percent of them have been employed for over six years. This is costing the government some $17 million per year.
The health care system can no longer provide employment to every medical graduate. The era of the house staff career physician is no longer sustainable.
I invite and challenge the University to be more engaged in career path planning for our young physicians. The era where after internship one can go and easily set up private practice, is long gone.
I suggest to you graduates, that by the time of completion of your internship, you have enrolled or you are actively pursing to enroll in a postgraduate program, or that you have sat the United States Medical Licensing Examination or PLAB.
You should also commit that by the end of your first year post-internship that you are in a postgraduate programme. And it does not have to be clinical medicine.
There are other areas you might consider such as medical management, public health, informatics, biostatics and epidemiology, all of which are essential needs.
The new disciplines in medicine on the horizon are almost unlimited.
I welcome you to our noble profession. The world is at your feet. Start walking. Learn to run and soar into the future.
The world of healthcare awaits you. All the best for a bright future.
May God bless you on your new journey and may God bless The Bahamas.