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PUBLISHED: Featured Alumnus – Dr. Paula Dawson

Paula “Genie” Dawson knew she would become a medical doctor. But she didn’t know that she would become a pioneering doctor making her mark in the field of rehabilitation medicine. As a physiatrist, Dr. Dawson’s speciality is playing an increasingly significant role in maintaining fitness in patients and addressing disability impairments.  The goal of physiatry is to decrease pain and enhance performance without surgery.

It’s a little different from geriatrics which Paula once fancied, when she thought her life’s work would involve removing pain and discomfort of elderly patients.

Paula’s involvement in sports is what triggered the change of heart. She can be described as the ultimate sportswoman – football, cricket, hockey, volleyball, netball, table tennis and athletics – she has done it all.

Now the ultimate sports physician in the making, trained to lead the team of medical professionals who will diagnose and treat pain; restore maximum function lost through injury, illness or disabling conditions using non surgical methods, and in reality, simply treating the whole person.

Paula entered the Mona campus of the UWI in 1992 in the Faculty of Natural Sciences with the aim of becoming a medical doctor.

“My first day on campus really set the tone for my life as a student and has informed my behaviour as a professional, working at Mona.

“I remember “Freshers’ week” on Taylor Hall. As an older Freshette, I found the antics very entertaining rather than intimidating, so I enjoyed it immensely. I was struck by the creativity of the seniors in carrying their message of Hall unity, which I think is the ultimate aim of the orientation exercise. It was awesome.”

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Paula, you see, worked for a few years after leaving high school, (Mount Alvernia High and ICHS 6th form) before taking on tertiary education.

First year was quiet, doing little else but studying and interacting on the block with fellow students. Nonetheless, she was awarded “Freshette” of the year, partnering Matthew “Knife” Harvey as “Freshman” of the year. Her second year, however, saw her involvement in sports, becoming Sports Rep, organising and motivating colleagues for success, and forming bonds of friendship which remain strong today.

Paula soon found out that an honours degree in Biochemistry and Zoology did not guarantee a place in the Medical Faculty. It took her all of four…yes, four days after the start of the school year to attend her first lecture as a medical student in 1995.

And it was love at first class. “I loved medicine even before I truly knew what it was all about. So I was excited.”

On the day she heard her name as a successful candidate in the final medical exams she said, “I felt a sense of being on track with my destiny. I loved medicine and my patients before I even met them. Realising the depth of my heart’s involvement with the patients I saw in due course, I decided against specialising in geriatric care. The thought of not being able to keep my patients alive and well, was not enough so I chose a specialty where I can improve the quality of life in all patients, Physiatry.”

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A founding member of the UWI women’s football team, a six-a-side venture initially, along with Roosevelt ‘Cammo’ Campbell, really a Taylor Hall grouping, Paula began to see the need for quality holistic medical support for sportsmen and women. Vin Blain, along with her friends, Slug, Termite, to name a few, supported the sporting ventures, making the Mona team a force to be reckoned with, locally and regionally.

The tireless, hard-studying Paula, who graduated with her medical degree in 2000 also served as Class President, 1998-2000, chairman of Smoker, class of 2000. She did her Residency at Long Island Jewish Hospital where she was appointed Chief Resident in her final year and a fellowship at Northwestern University and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, prepared her for her life of service.

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Paula Dawson advises student: “Become involved in campus life. You can do anything; achieve any level you set your sights on. All you need to do is give your best…and some.”

Dawson is pioneer for Physiatry in Jamaica and a co-founder of the UWI Sports Medicine Clinic. She teaches at the medical school and at the Physical Therapy school, works with elite and ordinary athletes, and hopes for a larger corps of Physiatrists to support the UWI Centre for Sporting Excellence and Rehabilitation.

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