St. Matthew's Medical University, School of Medicine, officially opened in San Pedro Town on September 9th, 1997. Temporary school buildings are located at Mar de Tumbo, next to Banyan Bay, and students board at Maya's Katut Resort. The three school buildings house a library, laboratory, administrative offices, and two amphitheater style classrooms. The permanent campus will be located south of town near Holiday Lands and is expected to be completed in two year's time. The University is independent and has no affiliation with any other institution.
There are 19 students in the first semester class. A new class will commence every September, January and May; about 50 more students are expected in January. Students will complete a two year course consisting of five 15 week semesters. Upon completion they will be required to take the United States Medical Licenses Examination (USMLE)- Step one. This exam is mandatory in order for them to have medical residency in the US. Successful students will transfer to universities in the United States or United Kingdom to complete two more years. This two year clinical rotation will entail students attending lectures and studying practicing doctors, after which they will be required to take Step 2 of the USMLE. A successful pass in the USMEL is also required in order to graduate St. Matthew's. There are no Belizean students presently attending St. Matthew's but they are encouraged to apply. St. Matthew's is in the process of arranging a scholarship program for Belizean students only. Three scholarships a year will be awarded to deserving applicants, one every January, May and September. Tuition presently being charged to attending students is $5,900.00 US per semester, approximately $59,000.00 US for the four year program. Perquisites included 2 semesters of general chemistry, 2 semesters of organic chemistry, two semesters of physics and 5 semesters of biology. Most of the students attending St. Matthew's have a bachelor's degree, but, it is not a must. Students who have the prerequisites but have not completed their degree are welcome to apply. Also of interest, with the 50 possible students expected in January, St. Matthew's faculty and staff will be expanding. Belizean doctors and lecturers will be encouraged to apply for positions.
Over the next few weeks the San Pedro Sun will be interviewing members of St. Matthew's faculty. This week we are featuring Dr. Mary Beth Downs, Dean of Academic Affairs. She is originally from Winston Salem, North Carolina and attended Wake Forest College where she obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Biology. She moved to Washington DC, where she attended George Washington University and acquired a Ph.D. in Human Anatomy.
After graduating she worked for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institution for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Fredrick Maryland. She spent 10 years with the U.S. Army where she worked on developing vaccinations and drug treatments to combat tropical diseases such as the Venezuelan equine encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis - both affect the brain. The team of researchers she worked with researched Dengue and compounds used to combat HIV. She was also a part of the team involved in combating the ecoli outbreak in the USA. Mostly she worked with Electron Microscopes (big microscopes 1000 times greater than normal microscopes). Dr. Downs moved to Montserrat where she acted as Head of Anatomy Department at American University. She was there for a little over a year but moved due to the erupting volcano and two hurricanes. American University relocated to St. Martins but after two more hurricanes, Louise and Maralyn, Dr. Downs decided to return to the US. She worked for a computer software company writing software for medical education. Shortly after she was asked to be a part of St. Matthew's and she accepted.
Her basic duties entail the administration of the curriculum and academics.There are three lecturers, including Dr. Downs, Dr. Ike Shahiel and Dr. Brian Matayoshi. Dr. Downs lectures in Histology and Anatomy. Dr. Shahiel in Biochemistry and Dr. Matayoshi in Physiology. There are several other doctors who come only to give special lectures or teach single semester courses; Dr. Jerry Thorton, Dean of Clinical Sciences, was here briefly to lecture on Biostatistics. Other special lecturers will lecture on ethics, physician and patient relationships, CPR and so on. Dr. Downs answered the most interesting question - "What are you going to do about dead bodies (cadavers)?" She explained that in the past the only way people could learn about the body was to use dead bodies. In recent years better, more convenient and less messy methods have evolved, such as plastination. Plastination is a process by which cadavers are plastinated. The oil and liquids are removed and replaced with plastic. The outcome is a life-like model which does not smell, go bad and lasts up 20 years. There are no chemicals involved. Students will also use computer programs, which come highly recommended, skeletons and video tapes - The Learning Channel type. According to Dr. Downs they would need about one cadaver for every 4 to 5 students every semester for two semesters. As she puts it, "a very expensive mess."
Dr. Downs was pleased to say that she was happy with the general outcome and that although there were a few glitches, nothing catastrophic, all is going well. She said that she liked San Pedro very much, especially so because their isn't any snow, lots of sand, sun, palm trees and water. She hopes that St. Matthew's will be profitable for the entire community.
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