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  • Writer's pictureSERHA

Malvia Williams Puts Self Aside for St. Thomas

When public health inspector, Malvia Williams, took her oath of ethics to serve as a medical practitioner 20 years ago, she knew she would have to adjust her mindset in order to survive Jamaica’s demanding health care sector.

That mindset involved “putting self aside”. If she had not done that, she believes she would not have effectively served as a nurse over the years, to later becoming a public health inspector.

When she hit a decade of serving as a nurse, the reality of joining health care kept tugging at her heart.

“It was my passion to be a nurse, but then being in the nursing field, I started to kind of get tired of the four wards, because as I go in on a daily basis, you know your duties that you perform. You go in, whether you’re one 7:00 am to 3:00 pm shift or you’re on 2:00 to 10:00 pm shift, so I was looking at some of the cases that normally come in, because hospital is secondary care, and thinking to myself that if we had persons out in the primary health system that could help to prevent some of these diseases, then the burden on the secondary care would be lessened, so I opt to do public health,” Williams, who now serves at St. Thomas Health Department as part of the South East Regional Health Authority (SEHRA), explained.

Becoming a nurse and eventually a public health inspector was not an easy feat.

After leaving high school, Williams began working at a supermarket as a cashier. Back then, she knew the cash register life was not her calling, so she applied to the Excelsior Community College at the Princess Margaret Hospital, was successful in her application and pursued her studies.

In July 2002, she started serving as an enrolled nurse at the Port Antonio Hospital and spent five years of her career there.

In 2007, Williams took study leave to pursue a four-year bachelor of science degree in environmental health at the University of Technology (UTech) and she graduated in 2011 with upper second class honors.

Williams said the real knowledge and skills acquired from courses pursued at UTech never kicked into full effect until the onset of the pandemic.

“I remember during UTech, we did epidemiology, and we learnt of the emergence and the re-emergence of diseases, so now was the time where we had to put that theory into practice, so we had to do what we had to do,” she said.

Work during the onset of the pandemic was hectic for Williams, given that she is the zone supervisor who leads a team of public health inspectors in the parish of St. Thomas, and in August and September 2020, communities in St. Thomas, such as Bamboo River, Church Corner and Lower Summit, which were ordered to be quarantined.

“We worked from Sunday to Saturday; extended hours. There were days when I came home like 11:00 pm in the night and I had to go back to work by 8:30 am in the morning, so it was very hectic, very challenging, but we stood to the task, because as public health specialists, this is what we were trained to do, so now the time came where the rubber touch the road, so we just had to do what we were trained to do,” Williams said.

Home assessments were the scariest parts of the pandemic during the first year for her.

“When we visited the home of the cases, we actually had to go into the houses to check to see if the house was suitable for a case to be isolated. We had to check the toilet facility. We had to ensure that they had sanitizing agents. We would have to do that to determine if we had to pull the case from the household in order to prevent those that were not infected, from becoming infected,” she explained.

She recalled how hectic it was working with the Church Corner and Bambo River communities that were under quarantine orders and having to do contact tracing.

“Every day I was in those communities doing contact tracing. I was not scared. It was a part of my job and I had to do it, so I put self aside and did it. I wasn’t even thinking if I would become infected. My aim was just to ensure that the numbers are controlled,” Williams said.

During her interview, she jokingly recalled how her sister would scorned when she returned home.

“There were days when I came home and my sister would run from me, and she said you’re out there all day in the midst of these COVID cases, but I just went, put self aside and went out and did what I had to do,” she said.

Now, her sister has since stopped running from her.

Luckily, Williams never caught coronavirus (COVID-19).

Amidst all of the stresses and looking back, she said she would not change her current career for another.

“I love public health. This is my passion. I love to serve the people. I love to work with persons,” she said.

For the period 2015 to 2016, Williams was awarded Food Safety Officer of the Year by the Jamaica Association of Public Health Inspectors.

In that same year, she was placed as the first runner-up public health inspector of the year; and the parish nominee for the Sir Kenneth Standard Award for Excellence for the parish of St. Thomas.

In 2020, she was one of three COVID Star Awardees.


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