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Editorial - How many?

The oath-taking ceremony for the first St. Maarten-born cardiologist, Emiko Bird-Lake, no doubt filled her family with pride, as it did acting Public Health Minister Marcel Gumbs (see related story) and rightly so. It’s important in general for locals to be successful and hold significant positions, because they can be considered positive role models for the island’s much maligned youth.

Of course, she won’t be practicing here permanently, but only during one month as part of the specialist rotational programme established by St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) with the Netherlands. Nevertheless, her example definitely can have a stimulating effect on those interested in studying medicine, as did, for example, the establishment of American University of the Caribbean (AUC) School of Medicine in Cupecoy.

Particularly for women she can serve as a welcome source of inspiration in what is still a male-dominated profession. Her case contributes to changing the latter and again shows that hard work and determination usually form the best recipe to overcome whatever obstacles one may encounter in both life and career.

The lack of certain specialists is known to be a problem in St. Maarten, hence the rotational programme, which seems to be working well. At the same time, there continue to be issues with having the necessary medical expertise in various fields readily available on the Dutch side.

It was reasoned in the past that there simply isn’t enough work for certain types of specialists to make their continuous presence feasible. However, these calculations were based mostly on existing rates applied by collective insurer SZV and the other companies in this line of business.

The problem is that when sending patients abroad it’s not just the cost of the doctor and foreign hospital that must be covered, but also that of transport and accommodation for both the patient and one support person, usually a close family member. Where it regards emergency situations one has to add the expense of sending along a trained nurse and, in some instances, even hiring a private plane.

So, a realistic evaluation of whether a certain specialist should be stationed locally can be made only if all these factors and costs are weighed and considered properly. The other, much-harder-to-answer question would be how many lives it might save.