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Caribbean injects National Medical Association of America – Part One of a Two-Part Series

By: Cloreth S Greene

KINGSTON, Jamaica – “I always felt that any talents I have should benefit the Caribbean. With relatively good health and with the skills and knowledge that I have to share, I find it difficult to pack up the bag”. One of the Caribbean’s most decorated ENT Specialists, Dr Halda Shaw (better known as Dr ‘Hal’ Shaw), has been honoured by the NMAA – National Medical Association of America – for his indefatigable service to Otolaryngology.

At their 105th annual conference and assembly, the NMAA established the ‘Halda Claudius Shaw, DDS. MD. MS. (ORL) Award’. Recipients were expected to be physicians primarily of West Indian heritage for service and professional excellence in their native country and would offer membership in the NMAA.

The occasion, which was held in Honolulu Hawaii in August 2007, saw Professor Winston Vaughan, founder and CEO of the California Sinus Centre paying tribute to the honoree.

In true Hawaiian fashion Dr Shaw’s lei was made of special tea leaves, which symbolize wisdom. Internationally acclaimed botanical artist Michelle Schwengel-Regala was commissioned to design the citation document and made it authentically Jamaican with the use of the doctor bird, the hibiscus and lignum vitae flowers.

For Dr Shaw, the gift which crowned his joy, the one he holds very dear to his heart was that of a cricket bat, specially flown in from Barbados. It was autographed by the great West Indian cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers and was accompanied by a photograph of the Caribbean legend.

In the 112-year history of the NMAA, this was only the fourth time that tribute was paid to an ENT, Head & Neck Surgeon in the form of an award being named in his honor. Of utmost significance is the fact that Dr Shaw is the first and only Non US Citizen and West Indian upon whom this deference has been bestowed.

The Professional Journey Begins

As a graduate of Ardenne High School, his career goal was to become a psychiatrist. While his friends read Mickey Spillain books, he read Freud. His Trinidadian Science teacher who was a graduate of McMaster’s University in Canada became his personal ‘library’ for books on psychology, and his fascination for how the mind works grew continually as he read more and more literature on the subject. He also desired to study overseas and in those days, the United States Embassy required a letter from the Ministry of Education for the issuance of a student visa.

Hal Shaw’s application to the Ministry of Education for pursuing studies in psychiatry was greeted with the response “there is little need and scope for psychiatrists in Jamaica”, so Dentistry was the alternative specialty recommended. In an effort to fulfill at least one of his dreams, he accepted the offer. With visa in hand, he was soon off to Howard University in Washington DC. This was August 1959, exactly 49 years to the date when he would be honoured by the NMAA.

Dr Shaw in a reflective mood while at his Kingston offices.

While pursuing his bachelors’ degree he won the prize in chemistry, and graduated from dental school on the Dean’s List. Upon completing his studies in Dentistry (1963 to 1967), he practiced Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery on the Georgetown University Service at DC General Hospital. From October 1968 until 1971, he worked in the government service at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and the Western St. Thomas Clinics in Jamaica. In 1968 Hal Shaw attended medical school at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) concurrent with his service in dental and maxillofacial surgery), and completed the Medical degree in 1972. Dr Shaw’s medical internship was done at the UHWI in 1973. Still not satisfied that his studies were adequate, he then pursued a UHWI 3-year training programme in ENT and Head & Neck Surgery. This honing of this specialty was complemented by a one-year programme at the Royal National Throat, Nose & Ear Hospital in London, two months of studies in France: at the Portmann Foundation and at the University of Bordeaux. He completed his Ear, Nose and Throat, Head and Neck surgery training in December 1977.

Dr Shaw recalls his years of studying in the US during the heights of the Civil Rights movement between 1959 and1968: “it took tremendous sacrifice, discipline and God’s help to remain focussed”. Financial assistance was not available then as it is now, and most Caribbean students had to work at nights and study during the daytime to “earn their keep and make their way ahead”. This period in the US was marked by events such as the US Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Struggle, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. During all this excitement on the world’s political stage, Halda Shaw completed his Bachelors degree in 3 years (major in Zoology, minor in Chemistry), completed the requirements for his masters degree, and also the requirements for his Doctorate in Dental Surgery. He remains as focussed today as he was during that period of social and political upheaval.

Practice Becomes Perfect

Jamaica had 14 practicing ENT Surgeons in 1977, but that statistic changed dramatically when only 3 remained on the island in 1979 – Dr Barbara Lyle-Harper, Dr Charles Lyn. And Dr Hal Shaw. This team of three, all employed to the Jamaican Government service at the time, had the awesome responsibility for attending to ENT needs across the entire island. It was yeoman’s work but they were friends, and accomplished the job through the principle of ‘sub-division’: Drs Shaw and Lyn covered the KPH, the Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC) and the UHWI routinely, while Dr Harper covered the UHWI for emergencies and rotated at the KPH and the BHC. Dr Shaw practiced in Montego Bay on alternate weekends, and remembers doing work equivalent to what is required of 3 practitioners on a regular basis. He taught nurses (postgraduates, students, nurse practitioners) and medical students (ENT residents, postgraduate ENT surgeons) in addition to working at all clinics and surgeries. His ENT postgraduates now practice in Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, London, New York and Trinidad. He clearly remembers that the first ENT Surgeon trained by their team became a migrant to New York.

Dr Shaw found himself “becoming very absorbed” in ENT, and eventually switched in 1972 from practicing Dental and Oral Surgery with the government, to practicing Medicine and the ENT Specialty. To this day, both specialties continue to be an integral part of his private practice and his relationship with the UHWI, the latter of which he now refers to as “small portions” of consultancy on a part-time basis. “Most of my clinical work at the UHWI is academic”, says Dr Shaw. He has invested much of his skill and time in the United States and in the Caribbean teaching, presenting papers and doing consultations. He states emphatically: “I love teaching”.

As a part of his teaching strategy, Dr Shaw creates linkages between several overseas Universities and the University of the West Indies (UWI). This facilitates a constant two-way flow of visiting professors and instructors. For practical purposes, he organizes Workshops and Conferences throughout the Caribbean to teach cutting edge surgical procedures to post-graduate doctors, such as an international Conference held in Suriname in March 2008, and a Workshop held at the Mona Campus in July later that year. Dr Shaw was one of the presenters at the Ena Thomas Memorial Symposium (Jamaica) in November 2007, and one of the international presenters at the World Congress of Rhinology and Allergy in December 2007.

An Incomparable Jamaican

Halda Claudius Shaw is the first West Indian to be qualified in both Dentistry and Medicine, and to have received post-graduate training in both specialties. He is the first and only Non US Citizen and West Indian to hold membership with the NMAA, and to have ascended to the position of chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery within that organization. During his distinguished medical career, Dr Shaw has served as an officer of several prestigious professional organizations: vice president (2 years), then president, the Caribbean Association of Otolaryngologists (CAO) – from 1994 to now; CAO representative on the board of governors for the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery (AAOH&NS); international advisor to the International Federation of Otolaryngological Societies (IFOS); vice chair (2 years) of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the NMAA, where he also served as director of international affairs. He also holds the following memberships: Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (26 yrs); Member of the Medical Association of Jamaica (since 1972); Member of the Association of Surgeons in Jamaica (since 1978); Member of the Cayman Medical Dental Society (since 1987); Fellow of the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.

He has also received recognition, honors and awards for service and excellence from The Otolaryngology Fraternity of Jamaica, The Caribbean Association of Otolaryngologists, The Association of Surgeons in Jamaica, The Nurse Practitioners Association (Jamaica), The Paediatrics and Allergy Association of Trinidad and Tobago, The Church of God in Jamaica, Missionaries of the Poor (Jamaica), The Pharmacy Association of the Caribbean, and The Nurses Association of the Cayman Islands.

Dr Shaw relaxing in Hawaii with his wife Jean (2nd left) and his colleagues Dr Nicole Nelson, ENT Surgeon at UHWI (1st left) and Dr Marsha James, Chief Resident in ENT at the UHWI.

Letting His Hair Down

Married to Jean Shaw, it comes as no surprise that their adult daughters are both medical doctors, who are now pursuing postgraduate studies. Both live in Jamaica, and Dr Shaw is the very proud and doting grandfather or a one-yr old girl. He enjoys travelling overseas (especially to attend conferences) and has visited several countries in Eastern and Western Europe, the Caribbean, the USA, Canada, South and Central America. For ‘rest and relaxation’, Halda Shaw enjoys fishing, hiking (he’s been to the Blue Mountain Peak 4 times!), listening to music and watching sports events. And he makes time for practicing his Christian religion. He is convinced that his life-map was charted with divine guidance, as “much of the course of my life did not happen as planned”.

So what will the next page of the Hal Shaw biography read? Only time will tell. However, one fact is already clear and certain. That page will continue to make Caribbean people at home and abroad proud of this humble yet distinguished and committed medical scientist. And Jamaicans will undoubtedly remain the proudest of the achievements of Dr Halda Claudius Shaw.

Cloreth Greene, ABC, MCIM, is a training and communications consultant specializing in developing/implementing training interventions, public speaking, marketing/public relations, and writing. She invites your comments at [email protected].

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