Address by H. E. the Most Hon. Patrick L. Allen, ON, CD at the MAJ Symposium and Awards Banquet Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, Saturday, June 6, 2009

“The Impact of Trauma on the Health of Our Nation”


  • Mr. Derek Jones – Master of Ceremonies
  • Dr. Rosemarie Wright-Pascoe – President of the Medical Association of Jamaica
  • Executive Members of the MAJ and other members of the Association
  • MAJ 2009 Awardees –  Drs Dunn, Archibald and Wright
  • Distinguished guests
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Good evening.

I am pleased to be here this evening to participate with the members of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) in your Annual Awards Banquet.

This banquet which brings down the curtain on this year’s symposium, has focused on the theme, “The Impact of Trauma on the Health of our Nation.”  I am sure this ‘retreat’ has been a welcome opportunity for members of the Association to increase their knowledge base for greater effectiveness, get in some social networking, and also recognize the outstanding achievements of three of your peers.

As I look around this beautifully decorated ballroom and see the leaders and experts in the medical profession, it is clear that no stress or trauma is being experienced here at the Jamaica Pegasus, this evening!

Not many people are aware that the MAJ is one of the oldest professional associations in Jamaica, having been constituted as the first overseas branch of the British Medical Association, in 1877.  And, for more than 130 years, the MAJ has played a pivotal role in Jamaica, through its contributions to health reform, its initiatives to address environmental issues, and its annual symposiums, which focus on ever-changing, dynamic medical issues.

We have established a fine tradition of medical practice in our country, and the men and women in this room have much to celebrate about the health care of our people.  By your efforts you have enabled us to enjoy a quality of life and level of life expectancy (71.8 – male; 75.2 – female as at 2008), which is equal to that of most developed countries. In addition, our primary health care system remains one of the most proactive in the region, as it incorporates the tenets of prevention.

The ‘Anatomy’ of Trauma

I would like to explore for a while what is trauma – that is, take a look at the anatomy of trauma. During the past few days this word has permeated your discussions. You have undoubtedly discussed at great length  the causes and impact of trauma on the health of the nation;  the  management, care, treatment  and rehabilitation of victims of trauma;   the financial and social costs, and the psychological syndromes that can result from certain types of trauma.

Layman that I am, I went back to the dictionary to refresh my memory on the meaning of trauma.  According to the dictionaries, trauma is:

i)                 ‘Severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience’ – Cambridge

ii)                ‘A powerful shock that can have long-lasting effect’Collins.

iii)              ‘Physical wound or injury.  Emotional shock following a stressful event, sometimes leading to long-term neurosesOxford.

I was further reminded by the Oxford that ‘neurosis‘ is ‘mental illness characterized by irrational or depressed thought or behaviour’ – Oxford.

So trauma is a serious medical and psychological condition which can have multiple ripple effects.  Unfortunately, we live in an era when, despite all the positives that we experience on a daily basis, there are events and situations that bring trauma into our lives.

Globally, governments, companies and people find themselves in varying degrees of trauma and this is now more evident than ever, as we all face the outcomes of an economic recession that has rocked the foundations of developed and developing countries.   We have seen that:

  • Fortunes have been lost.
  • The giants in some business sectors have closed their doors.
  • Some risk-takers have been exposed, and,
  • Government-sponsored bail-out programmes and stimulus packages have been devised to rescue companies.

Here in Jamaica, we are experiencing the impact of the global financial trauma, which has manifested itself in job layoffs, rising consumer prices, inability to meet mortgage payments, and limited resources.  Those overarching situations are further compounded by the traumatic experiences that Jamaicans continue to face on a daily basis – whether these are the loss of a loved one as a result of crime, child abuse, drug abuse, road accidents, or other negative activities that create stress in our lives.

The headlines in our newspapers and on our electronic newscasts provide us with daily reminders that there is a growing level of trauma in our society, and our medical practitioners inform us that all of these traumatic events and situations can impact negatively on the psyche of our people.  This results in a loss of confidence in themselves and ultimately affects the health of the nation.

The Role of Doctors

Let’s look at the role of Medical Doctors in the treatment of trauma. As Doctors, you know that when any part of the body sustains injury, a healing process begins at once, as nature begins to restore soundness.  However, this healing process is usually further assisted by medical intervention, whether it be by surgery, medicine, therapy, counseling or other modalities.

However, in addition to the conventional treatment usually offered, I wish to raise another dimension to patient care – that is the spiritual, mental and emotional.   I believe that these components of healing are not irrelevant but critical to the treatment of trauma.

You are quite familiar with Latin phrases which you encountered in your training e.g. ‘men’s, spiritus, corpus’ suggests that the whole person, the healthy person, is the result of the mind spirit and body functioning harmoniously under the care of three practitioners, vis-à-vis: the pedagogue, the pastor and the physician.  Quite often the physician is the one required to function in all three positions.

(1)        The Physician is a Counselor

Qualities such as listening, reassuring, understanding, honesty, trust and confidentiality are crucial I believe, in patient care.  I know of several instances where persons go to the Doctor and just by talking, relating symptoms and being reassured by the doctor, they feel better when they get home, even before starting the prescribed medication.

An understanding Physician with excellent bedside manners is a definite boon to an ailing patient, who needs to be reassured that things may not be as bad as earlier imagined.  We all know the saying in Jamaica that ‘belief kills and belief cures.’ Many patients come to see the doctor fearful of what they will get, and fear is often our worst enemy.

(2)         The Physician is an Educator

Patients have a right to be part of their health management.  Many patients go to the Doctor and leave ignorant of their condition and knowing only that the Doctor gave them ‘some pills.’  Some are afraid to ask, or the Doctor, who sometimes maintains an aura and mystique and does not always tell them what they perceive the condition to be. However, prescriptions are just one part of the equation and we know that Information Disclosure is an important tenet in the Patient’s Bill of Rights.

I also believe that Physicians have a duty to tell their patients when their illness is caused by improper dietary choices and destructive health habits.  In a powerful little book titled, The Ministry of Healing, the author posits:  “when a physician sees a patient suffering from disease caused by improper eating and drinking or other wrong habits, yet neglects to tell him/her of this, he/she is doing his/her fellow being an injury.”

If there is a life-threatening illness, the Physician should not withhold this information but inform and reassure the patient, calming obvious fears, and, in language they can understand.  The physician outlines the available choices for treatment, including making the necessary lifestyle changes.

(3)         The Physician is a Healer

As humans we have been ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ created and there are many who believe that the Bible contains health principles, which if we followed, we would see a decline in traumatic episodes.

I believe that doctors have a Medical Ministry to humanity.  Once a patient turns up at your office or sees you on the hospital ward, his/her life is almost in your hands.  One wrong diagnosis or prescription and life may be sacrificed or ushered to the next life with a “gone too soon” epitaph inscribed on the headstone.

This is such an awesome and humbling thought!  But I also believe God has endowed Doctors with the wisdom and understanding to heal, and it is not so far-fetched to think that this healing may be a holistic experience of healing of the body, mind and spirit.

The Role of Alternative Therapies

I am aware that alternative medicine has got a bad rap over the years,  and some health care professionals think that such treatment is nothing sort of quackery.  However, I would plead for tolerance for complementary treatment options such as.

Music Therapy, which uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals of all ages.  And according to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy interventions can be used to:

  • Promote wellness,
  • manage stress,
  • Alleviate pain.
  • Express feelings,
  • Enhance memory,
  • Improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.

Then there is Prayer & Healing.  Mind and body approaches to healing have gained increasing acceptance in recent years.  I am sure many persons in this room are familiar with the 1994 Gallup Poll which revealed that 75% of Americans think their physician should address spiritual issues as part of their medical care. Forty per cent want their physicians to discuss religious issues with them, and nearly 50% want their physicians to pray not just for them but with them.

The results of various studies, including the popular one done by Duke University in the late 1990’s  on the effect of healing and prayer have been published  in prestigious medical journals including the Southern Medical Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association and Complementary Medical Research.

There have been reported lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide;  greater ability to fight infections, inhibition of the growth of cancer cells, protect red blood cells, altered blood chemistry, and increase blood oxygenation.  In one study, skin wounds healed at a much faster rate when treated with spirituality-related treatment.   Some 30 medical schools in America are now offering courses in faith and medicine.

Dr Dale Matthews, Associate Professor of Medicine at Georgetown  University School of Medicine and author of the book, The Faith Factor: Proof of the Healing Power of Prayer, suggests that people who pray are less likely to get sick and more likely to recover from surgery and are better able to cope with illnesses than people who do not pray.  Some evidence suggests that people who are prayed often, do better even if they don’t know that they are being prayed for.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am by no means advocating the abandonment of traditional medicine, but there is a place for properly trained and qualified alternative health care practitioners.  

I believe that a healthy lifestyle can lessen the impact of trauma. Although our eminent doctors can effectively identify the causes of trauma and treat the victims of trauma, we as good citizens in a just society, can also do some things to prevent some of this trauma.

I believe that it is time for us to rediscover some of the positive motivating factors in our lives to help us to eliminate the high levels of stress that we are experiencing, in these times. I venture to suggest that I Believe it is time for to us to:

  • Re-discover the paradise that Christopher Columbus found when he came to Jamaica.  Our beautiful Island is an ideal place to implement a NEWSTART Programme which emphasizes Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest and Trust in Divine Power.
  • I Believe that physicians should take a serious look at our family structure in Jamaica…and re-construct that unit as a stable, caring and nurturing context, in which our children, the leaders of tomorrow, can learn to love one another, learn good values, and become valuable citizens.
  • I Believe we should engender safe, secure and enabling communities to support exemplary family life styles, where the church and the school are central to the development of young people; and where adults play an integral role in guiding the health and education of young people.
  • I Believe that the Church, whatever the denomination, should become more central to the life of the people in each community, not only through its religious teachings; but, also through its outreach projects to touch their lives, and influence healthy habits.
  • I believe everyone in Jamaica should volunteer time to help each other in our community especially the youth, and help to build gentler, kinder and safer communities and ultimately a safer Jamaica.  The ultimate goal and reward comes from serving people, because it is in serving people that we serve God.

We need to commit ourselves to improving our individual health status, and create a healthier country, thereby significantly reducing the financial and social cost of health care.  In fact, most of the trauma that we encounter in our society can be eliminated, or prevented, if we chose to become more conscious and aware, and develop healthy lifestyles.

Commendation to Awardees

Her Excellency joins me in commending the members of the MAJ who are being honoured this evening, for the sterling contribution that they made to the practice of medicine in Jamaica.


I applaud the MAJ as a whole for your selfless contributions to so many aspects of our daily lives through your medical practice.  On behalf of a grateful country, I thank all our medical practitioners for the individual work that you do in the care and treatment of our people.

I wish you well in your commitment to service, and may God guide you in all that you do to keep us in good health, to reduce levels of trauma, and to enhance our life expectancy.

Thank you and God bless you and God bless Jamaica, land we love.