‘I would do it all over again’

From escaping gun violence in order to get to work where she would cater to the sick, and even offering her services in another country due to a volcanic eruption, Winniefred Chambers-Dyer says she is proud of her nursing career and would not think twice about redoing her journey if required.

For her outstanding contribution to nursing and health care in Jamaica, Chambers-Dyer was among 11 recipients awarded with the Jamaica 60 Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) Living Legacy Award for Health in memory of the late nurse and senator Syringa Marshall-Burnett on Thursday.

“I am honoured. I would do it all over again as it means a lot to me. This award is like the icing on the cake of my career,” she told the Jamaica Observer during the ceremony which was held at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

Chambers-Dyer, who has worked in the health-care industry for over 50 years, started her nursing career at the Bellevue Hospital in 1969 and moved to the Kingston Public Hospital the following year, where she gave 33 years of outstanding service.

Throughout the years she worked as a nursing sister; unit manager of Clinics, Wards and Accidents and the Emergency Department; departmental sister; manager for the Surgery Department; acting deputy matron; and then deputy matron before retiring in 2003.

Chambers-Dyer, who is from Manchester, said she initially started out as an educator before getting the opportunity to serve as a nurse.

“I started off being a pre-trained teacher, but then one day I had an incident with a family member of a student and I said, ‘This is not for me.’ So when I saw the midwife I said to myself that I was going to be a nurse or police,” she said.

“I applied and both areas invited me in for some examination and then an interview, but nursing came through first,” she added.

The best part of her job, she said, was restoring good health to patients.

“I love meeting my patients. For the most part I was very close to them and their families, of course, and I enjoy seeing them coming in and walking out of the hospital. That’s the best part,” she said.

While there were experiences that Chambers-Dyer enjoyed, the job allowed her to experience challenges too.

One of her toughest assignments was her trip to Montserrat during the island’s Soufrière Hills volcanic eruption in 1997, where she served as team leader of six nurses. She described the experience as “less than ideal” as there was much displacement and local health personnel had migrated with their families to other countries.

“Almost every nurse there had gone. But there were six of us who went down, one was a Montserratian and the other five of us were Jamaicans. We were like an initial group that went down because they really asked for our help,” she said.

Describing another tough experience, she said, “In the 1980s I had to dodge bullets to come home and go to work. It was very unsettling for almost everybody who worked in downtown Kingston, but we managed because we knew the warm bodies were waiting on us to come.”

After retirement, Chambers-Dyer was eager to continue her contribution to the field of nursing and took up several other leadership roles until 2013.

Throughout her experience there is one important lesson she has learnt: “Love people, and if you love people, you have conquered just about everything, even if you might not get it back in return.”

The CCRP Living Legacy Award was established in 2012 to honour Jamaicans who have made significant contributions to national development in various fields. Currently, CCRP has close to 12,000 members across the country.

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