Friday, May 25, 2001
Belizeans and tourists alike know the island-township of San Pedro,
Ambergris Caye as a place to unwind. But what they may not know is that
San Pedro is home to Belize's first medical school, St. Matthew's
University School of Medicine. An international student body study here
for two years, after which they go out to practice medicine.
Their two year course of study takes place right here on San Pedro where
the students, who come from all over the world including Belize learn
the basic sciences in a classroom setting.
Dr. Jeffrey Sersland, who completed his medical training in England, is
the president and CEO of St. Matthew's. Sersland says he fell in love
with the island on his first visit and decided to set up a school.
Dr. Jeffrey Sersland, Pres. and CEO, St. Matthew's
"I saw the opportunity to work with the country very appealing, in
Belize. And San Pedro was an idyllic setting at that time, so San Pedro
just was just sort of a happenstance in many ways."
Sersland says setting up a medical school on San Pedro was not without
Dr. Jeffrey Sersland
"When I first came to San Pedro, I had this dream, and I was waiting
here...We put the buildings up before any of the students arrived and I
just sat there patiently waiting, just hoping that the students would
come fulfil this dream that I had. It was very difficult in the
beginning. We didn't have any funding sources from the United States. We
didn't have any real backing, it was myself and a couple colleagues from
the U.S. and from Belize that came together through the hard times to
really fund the whole project. After a while, we stuck together, held on
strong and we were allowed the opportunity to be in the lending
community within the U.S. that certainly help us grow, so the students
had more opportunities to fund their education."
There were lots of funds to go around. The university has lecture halls,
a library, classrooms, a laboratory, a deli and a lovely campus. Of the
close to fifty medical students enrolled at St. Matthew's seven are
Belizeans on scholarship. Ajay Hotchandani is one of them.
Ajay Hotchandani, Belizean Medical Student
"Now I'm doing my basic science. I'm a fourth semester, and after the
next semester, I'll probably do my internship in England then the U.S.
So I've been here for a little bit over a year and a half."
"Well I'm doing my first year in Europe just to expose me to a
different area of medicine. I've realised that what we learnt in text
books is one thing and what we learn from different cultures and
different people is something no teacher can teach us. It's a culture
that we will learn and it's a different way of doing medicine as we do
here in San Pedro, compared to Belize City, compared to England,
compared to the U.S. Anywhere around the world I can get that exposure,
I'll take that opportunity. It's something that I believe can only b
beneficial to my career."
Durgha Shanmugan, who was born in Sri Lanka and raised in California, is
currently studying the basic sciences. She finishes in August and starts
her clinical practice in September.
Durgha Shanmugan, U.S. Medical Student
"I have decided to go to England. So when I go to England, I'll be
doing my rotations there, and then I'm going to study for the boards and
take my boards as well."
"I eventually want to do my rotations in Los Angeles, but I want to do
my third year, the core rotations, in England just for the experience. I
haven't had any experience before, and I think the experience will help
me understand more, and at the same time I will study for the boards and
do my fourth year in Los Angeles."
"Why the experience in Europe?"
"I was told by many people that you get more hands on experience in
Europe it's social medicine and you're able to interact with the
The Belizean students are not going it alone though, a couple Belizean
teachers lecture at St. Matthews. Robert Coye, an internist by training,
is now an assistant professor of anatomy.
Robert Coye, Assistant Professor of Anatomy
I love teaching, and it was an opportunity for me to do teaching as
well as I'm working in areas here, which I think is quite progressive.
There are looking into developing more community outreach, with respect
to the medical students, get them more involved in community regards,
prevention, patient education, more community advocacy type work,
preventive medicine. For example, we recently developed a programme with
a tobacco prevention specialist from the state of Wisconsin."
Giovanni Solorenzo, Belizean Lecturer
"A typical day for me entails coming to the university at 6:30 in the
morning, getting my text books ready. I start teaching at 7:00, my
course is the only one that starts at 7:00. I teach the students how to
do a physical examination. I think it's a very wonderful experience. It
keeps me updated, I keep on studying and it's as a primary care
physician, it's a very good thing to do because I'm able to keep on top
St. Matthew's University was established in 1997. Tomorrow is a proud
day for the university school of medicine, as it holds its inaugural
graduation ceremonies for eleven doctors.
Marybeth Downs, V.P., St. Matthew's School of Medicine
"We will have our students and faculty here to send off our new
graduates, who will be receiving their diplomas, and after the ceremony
they will be doctors. They mill be M.D.s and they will be certified to
practice medicine. It's going to be a really exciting ceremony. We're
really excited about it. we're going to have the ceremony take place on
Pedram Mizani of Iran is one of the medical students who will be
Pedram Mizani, Graduates on Saturday
"Walking down the streets knowing that this was the island that I
actually got my degree at, it feels great. Hopefully one day I could
come back and help out the people over here. I understand there's going
to be a hospital built...it's a great feeling to know that this island
is actually moving up much faster than expected.
For Belizeans interested in studying on a scholarship at St. Matthew's
University School of Medicine you can log on to the school's website for
more information at www.stmatthews.edu
or contact the Ministry of