Barbara Nelson, Contributor
Since 1991, U.S. News and World Report has recognised the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as the 'Best Rehabilitation Hospital in America' - no other speciality hospital has been consecutively ranked the 'best'.
In July this year Jamaican-born Paula Dawson, a former national athlete and year 2000 graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, was scheduled to go to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as a fellow in the Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center.
Dawson was completing her year as academic chief resident, physical medicine and rehabilitation, at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center/North Shore, Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York. Her appointment as academic chief resident at the 827-bed voluntary, non-profit, tertiary-care teaching hospital came in the final stretch of the years of post-graduate training she has spent there since July 2003.
She is now seeing the fulfilment of her dreams. She has always loved sports and also wanted to become a medical doctor. After her early school days at Mt. Alvernia High School and sixth-form studies at Immaculate Conception High School, she went on to the UWI, Mona where she studied successfully for a B.Sc., (Hons.) in biochemistry and zoology.
She went on to medical school at the UWI in August 1995 and was very happy there.
Best days of my life
"I spent some of the best days of my life there," she said. "The camaraderie was great."
Meanwhile, she had been making her mark as an athlete, giving outstanding performances in track and field, field hockey and football at the UWI from 1994 to 2000. In 1997, she was selected as Caribbean UWI Champion Female Athlete. She was a player on both the National Jamaica Football team in 1999 and on the National Jamaica Cricket team in 2001.
She served as treasurer for the Jamaica Women's Football Association from September 1997 to March 1998.
Dawson graduated as a medical doctor in June 2000 and did her internship at the University Hospital of the West Indies with rotations in general surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics and orthopaedics.
Family practice physician
She worked in Jamaica for a while in government health clinics, and as a family-practice physician.
Meanwhile, she became a volunteer doctor with the Jamaica Sports Medicine Association and then as a member of the National Council on Continued Medical Education. Dawson was vice-president and later president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association.
However, there was an unfulfilled desire.
"I was a sportswoman first, then came school. I really wanted to do sports medicine," she said. "For a while I thought of doing orthopaedics. I was fascinated with the precision that is involved."
She left Jamaica and entered the Albert Einstein School of Medicine as an intern in general surgery in July 2003.
Looking back at the years she spent at the UWI, Mona, she says: "We were well trained. We developed a good work ethic and excellent discipline."
The experience laid a solid foundation for the many years she had to spend in the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.
She said she feels humbled by the number of opportunities for personal and professional growth and development that have presented themselves in the past few years. She has met professionals who have helped to expand her horizons in the field of medicine. Even her acceptance at the renowned Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago was amazing to her as "they only take chief residents there".
She said: "It is just about the very best place to go for training in rehabilitation."
This month, Dawson will be one of the featured speakers at the National Medical Association Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly in Hawaii. Earlier this year, she spoke at the Fifth Caribbean Neuroscience Symposium on Surgical versus Non-operative Treatment of Lumbar Radiculopathy.
Dawson looks forward to the time when she will return to Jamaica and fulfil yet another dream: teaching others what she haslearned over the years about sports medicine.