TONY BEST: Bajan doc in deep South
BY ANY MEASURE, Dr Paul C. Harrison, a member of a new generation of Barbadian physicians in the United States, is an unusual person.
As a highly trained medical professional, he had a choice a few years ago of taking up a post in fast-paced urban centres with bright lights, such as New York.
But what sets him apart is how he sought to live up to the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath, which gives the medical profession a sense of duty to people.
“After completing my residency in New York City, I wanted to go to a place that was different. I was tired of the winter months and my wife and I wanted a place that was warm,” said the father of an 18-month-old child.
“We wanted to give up the big city life. We decided on something that was more traditional, quieter and laid back.”
But even more important was the medical practice that appealed to him. Instead of a sprawling medical centre, the Barbadian and his wife, Alamaze, a registered dietician in Montgomery, chose Glenville, a small community in southern Alabama, three hours’ drive from Atlanta.
“I wanted to practise both inpatient and outpatient medicine and of the many job offers, including a position in Montgomery, the state capital, we chose Glenville,” said the graduate of the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and Barbados, who was also trained at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Harlem Hospital Centre, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in Manhattan and at Brooklyn Hospital Centre.
Glenville is about an eighth the size of Barbados with a population of less than 8 000. It is in the heart of America’s Deep South where decades ago it was the epicentre of racial segregation and violence.
Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama and thousands of civil rights activists and political leaders travelled to Selma, Alabama, to observe the 50th anniversary of “bloody” Sunday when rampaging white police officers with dogs, fire hoses and billy clubs beat and bloodied scores of Blacks for demanding the right to vote.
“I am aware of the history of Alabama but things have changed dramatically since then,” said Harrison, 33, who once dreamt of becoming a paediatrician but switched to surgery only to emerge as a highly respected family physician.
“I am now in my third year in Glenville. As professionals we haven’t had any problems at all. Today, the racial climate, fuelled by a healthy mix of the races – whites account for 50 per cent of the population; Blacks make up 48 per cent; and Hispanics and Asians the rest – is welcoming, and people live and work side-by-side and in peace.”
In a real sense, though, Glenville is among the last places you would expect to find a Barbadian doctor.
Harrison, the son of Mary Weekes and Carlisle Harrison, loves what he is doing as a primary, secondary and tertiary care physician for patients who turn to Stabler Clinic and Memorial Hospital for treatment.
“I manage people in the hospital, including the ICU,” he pointed out.
Question: Do you miss the Queen Elizabeth Hospital?
“Actually no,” said the physician, who travels to Barbados every year. “But I do miss Barbados. Nothing has really changed at the QEH. I wouldn’t be surprised if many young physicians leave for opportunities elsewhere. After all, they, too, want the best for their families and I wouldn’t blame them.”
Tony Best is the NATION’S North American correspondent.