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  July 22, 2002

Health Center Explores Exchange
Program with Caribbean Island of Tobago
By Kristina Goodnough

Health care officials from the Caribbean island of Tobago hope to create an exchange program to link their tiny hospital with the Health Center and its resources.

The officials spent three days at the Health Center in May touring the facility, speaking with doctors and administrators, and even copying a floor plan of the emergency department. Their goal is to establish a program to exchange doctors and students between the two hospitals to teach and learn from each other.

The program would expand and formalize a relationship that began two years ago when Shirley Cooke, an operating room technician, started organizing medical missions to the island. Cooke, who was born in Tobago, has arranged six missions, each time bringing surgeons and other health care professionals to provide care otherwise unavailable on the island. During their visits, the physicians and other professionals have seen hundreds of patients and performed dozens of knee repairs and other orthopedic procedures, along with procedures such as colonoscopies and laparoscopic tubal ligations.

Cooke's missions triggered the visit by Tobago's assistant secretary of health, Aldington Spencer, with Trevor Craig, chairman of Tobago's regional health authority, and Dr. Maria Dillon Remy, medical director of the island's Scarborough Regional Hospital. They hope to build on the framework established by the missions to build an exchange program that will provide support and training for the new hospital currently under construction on the island.

"What we've seen here augurs well for us and for the Health Center," said Craig during his visit. "I believe an exchange program will provide many opportunities for training and support for both sides."

For Cooke, the exchange program is a way to formalize and perpetuate the care and support provided by the medical missions, which will also continue. "Coming in for a week at a time is worthwhile and we all enjoy the time we spend here," she said, "but a permanent program is a more effective way to help."

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