GGAA recipient on a mission to transform the health sector

His fascination with data and its immense potential application for advancing local medical research will take him to Harvard, a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States of America, where he will pursue postdoctoral studies in biomedical informatics. That preoccupation with data was what led Dr Elombe Calvert to pursue a master’s degree in applied data science at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

At age 26, Calvert is a graduate of the UWI with a medical degree with honours and works there as a senior medical officer. However, there is a restlessness that continues to drive the youngster from Westmoreland who obtained a combined total of 22 distinctions at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate levels.

The course at Harvard this year will only be for one year because of his medical degree, and Calvert said it came about because of a serious deficit he picked up on during his everyday job.

“That came about thorough me working in the medical healthcare system in Jamaica and realising that we do not really capitalise on the medical data that we are producing to advance research. We don’t really capitalise on it to guide different processes and help improve healthcare delivery to patients. So seeing that deficit, I pursued a master’s degree in applied data science at UWI to help me grapple with the data that we were seeing and can use to solve issues in healthcare,” Calvert told The Gleaner.

It was while pursuing that master’s programme that the Westmoreland native learnt that there was a specific branch of data science known as biomedical informatics in which biomedical data is used to improve healthcare delivery and that led him to apply to Harvard and other overseas universities. He was also accepted at the New York University, Mount Sinai and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, among others.

“I chose Harvard because of their reputation,” he declared, while holding the plaque and citation he had received a short while before from Governor General St Patrick Allen. Dr Calvert was among the 40 recipients culled from the more than 500 applications for the 2022 Governor General’s Achievement Awards and was chosen for the age category 25-35 which highlights youth leadership, service and academic excellence.

The awards and accolades heaped on this humble son of Westmoreland last Thursday at King’s House are well deserved, especially in light of his painful route to success. Regrettably, his parents were not on the island and so could not be on hand to witness the happy occasion.

When fire destroyed his family home at the age of 16, the youngster went into deep retrospection and came out of it much stronger mentally and definitely motivated. He admits that the displacement of his immediate family and the resulting financial instability really took a toll on all of them, but the teenager refused to buckle and chose instead to accept the lessons adversity handed him.

He explained what happened: “With the help of family and friends we were able to build back what was lost, but in terms of motivation and the way forward, understanding loss allowed me to capitalise on every opportunity that was given or offered. So that catapulted me to do well in school because I now understood what it meant to have the opportunity, in that I had lost everything before.

“That served as my motivation throughout the years and I also leveraged in into medicine in terms of life – helping persons too, who have lost everything and possibly could their lives as well. That helped me to understand and relate more to patients and guided my transition into medicine.”

And Dr Calvert is nowhere near thinking about easing up yet, as he explained about his plans after returning from Harvard.

“I hope to reform Jamaica’s healthcare system by forming this consolidated information system for healthcare data. So we can actually start the process of using data to solve healthcare problems such as diagnoses or choosing the right medication, also advancing research, and after one year I will be back.”

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