“I will not just be a doctor, I will be a doctor who makes a difference and I will stand out, because I love what I am doing. I think I have accomplished a lot, but there is much more to be accomplished and I will do just that.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Have you ever found yourself doing something and concluded ‘yes, I was born for this!’ Well if you haven’t, Latoya Gooding certainly has. You see, ever since she was a girl she knew she was going to be a doctor, after all, she just had an inclination to help save lives.
Although back in the day her patients were cats, today she is fulfilling with excellence her role as a medical practitioner who focuses on helping to save the lives of cancer patients. It took her some years to get to where she is, but Dr. Gooding has no regrets. In fact, she only has plans to be in a position to do ever more in this regard.
BECOMING A DOCTOR
As a young girl out of secondary school, her first job was as a Pharmacy Assistant at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) This was in 2005, but since she had her eyes set on becoming a doctor, her vision was to eventually study Medicine.
As such, Dr. Gooding, during a recent interview, recalled that she jumped at the first opportunity to apply for a scholarship offered through the then Public Service Ministry to study Medicine in Cuba. She had resigned and was ready to begin her journey to becoming a doctor. But there was a delay. As she waited, she reapplied at the GPHC for a job, and this time was retained as a clerk in the Matron’s office.
During her days in the Matron’s office, Dr. Gooding recalled becoming aware of a visiting doctor who was offering training to nurses in the field of Oncology. Oncology is the study of cancer. The Oncology field for some reason excited her, and so she decided she too wanted to experience the training. She made the request and the then Matron, Sister Audrey Corey, did not disappoint. So even before proceeding to Cuba in 2006, the aspiring doctor was the holder of a certificate in Basic Oncology Nursing.
However, her decision to really embrace Oncology was reinforced following the death of her grandfather in 2009 from prostate cancer. At the time she was still studying in Cuba. Upon her return home she heard of how her grandfather suffered before his demise.
“I found out that he was just going to clinic at the Georgetown Hospital, but not much else was being done to treat his condition. No biopsy [removal of tissue to determine the presence, cause or extent of a disease] was done, he was just going to clinic and then he just passed,” Dr. Gooding recalled.
It was with this in mind that she decided that she simply didn’t want to be a mere General Practitioner, but rather, a doctor who could help to make a difference in the lives of patients. Her choice was Oncology, but there was no functioning Oncology Department at the hospital. “When I made my request I was told there was just a consultant doing work, and if I wanted to be in the Oncology Department I wouldn’t be doing anything and it would just be a waste. But I insisted that I was not going anywhere else, I only wanted to go to Oncology,” Dr. Gooding recounted.
Although it was a bit of struggle, on May 7, 2015, the fledgling doctor joined the barely functioning Oncology Department at the GPHC. There wasn’t even much for a doctor’s office, rather, there were two blackboards on either sides of an examination bed and that was pretty much the Oncology Department.
With the support of a few nurses, the limited Oncology work was being done by a Cuban Consultant, Dr. Justo Despaigne Delisle, who actually started to offer Oncology services about three months before Dr. Gooding joined the Department.
“They were seeing some patients. They were mostly offering chemotherapy and seeing random patients who were referred to the Department,” Dr. Gooding said.
But she knew she was making the right decision when she took into consideration the information contained in a Cancer Analysis document completed by Dr. Morris Edwards, which revealed that between 2002 and 2012, 85 percent of persons diagnosed with cancer received no form of treatment.
“Today, as I sit here, I can tell you that that situation has been reversed. About 80 to 90 percent of the persons diagnosed with cancer have received some form of treatment…whether it is chemotherapy, surgery, radiation or palliative care; they receive treatment right at the Georgetown Public Hospital,” assured Dr. Gooding with pride.
But she remembered that when the work of the Department started to expand, patients receiving chemotherapy were seated near the entrance of the office and persons upon entry had to pass them before they could reach the medical staff of the Department.
“I realised that some patients were uncomfortable because they didn’t want their neighbour or other persons coming into the Department knowing they had cancer,” recalled Dr. Gooding. Her observation essentially inspired a remodelling of the Oncology Department, with the chemotherapy section being removed to the back of the office to ensure patients’ privacy.
In fact, an extension of the Department soon followed, through the support of the United States-based Organisation of Social and Health Advancement of Guyana [OSHAG], which adopted the hospital’s Oncology Unit, and even provided chemotherapy couches and other items to improve the delivery of cancer care. The Oncology Unit has ever since been on an evolutionary path, with more developmental projects currently in the pipeline.
To make the department even more efficient, Dr. Gooding inspired the creation of a schedule that ensured that patients are not randomly sent to the Oncology Department, but that specific days would be designated to various categories. This has translated to Mondays being the day for medical patients; Tuesdays – Gynaecology patients; Wednesdays for new patients and Fridays for surgical patients. Moves are also apace to have in place a breast cancer screening clinic.
But even more importantly, Dr, Gooding was eager to announce that the hospital, through the Oncology Department, is now offering targeted breast cancer treatment for patients at the hospital. According to Dr. Gooding, “When you are diagnosed with breast cancer there is a test that you need to do that we weren’t doing, but now we can offer our patients this test.”
The test is called immunohistochemistry, which is a special staining process performed on fresh or frozen breast cancer tissue removed during biopsy. Not only the test but the subsequent treatment, once patients are tested positive, are administered free of cost, and Dr. Gooding said that she is happy to be associated with such a venture.
STARTING A FOUNDATION
Bubbling over with the desire to do even more, Dr. Gooding decided to introduce a Cancer Foundation which was aptly named ‘The Giving Hope Foundation’. The Foundation, which was launched last year, was created with three things in mind: the death of her grandfather from prostate cancer; the fact that too many women with breast cancer are seeking attention at a late stage and also to give hope to persons suffering from depression, with a view of helping to reduce the suicide rate.
The Foundation, which has an office at Ketley and Drysdale Streets, Charlestown, Georgetown, is one that has been reaching out to persons throughout the country, and in fact, has plans to host a Day Camp for children in the coming months to help disseminate its message of hope to those who might have lost a parent or sibling or other family member to cancer or suicide.
According to Dr. Gooding, too, the organisation is always willing to collaborate with various organisations once their vision aligns with that of the Foundation.
Closely linked to the United States-based Health, Education Relief Organisation for Cancer [HEROC], headed by Ms Lorna Welshman-Neblett, the Foundation has been able to not only deliver cancer screening and treatment services, but it has also been donating food hampers to patients and medical supplies where it is needed. Just last week the Foundation made a donation to the Bartica Hospital.
It is no wonder that the Bartica Hospital was atop of Dr. Gooding’s agenda, since it was at that very Region Seven health facility that she was born on November 17, 1988. The fourth of seven children born to her parents Franklin Gooding and Audrey McKenzie, she remembers attending primary school in Bartica, after which she moved to Georgetown to pursue her secondary education at Central High.
However it was while still at primary level that she decided she was going to become a doctor, because she wanted to save lives. In fact, she recalled her first attempt at saving a life was performing what she believed was a surgery on a cat that had died. Her attempt was futile, so she instead facilitated a fitting funeral.
“I knew since back then I wanted to become a doctor,” said Dr. Gooding, who had no idea how she would have accomplished this feat. This was in light of the fact that her performance was especially outstanding in the business subjects, but not as good in the required Science subjects. Although she always managed to secure passing grades in them all, her teachers recognised the disparity and encouraged her to fall into the business stream, despite her desire to be in the Science stream.
“I had to literally take my mommy to school to tell them [teachers] that I wanted to do Science and that is how I got accepted into the Science stream and I never regretted that decision,” said a smiling Dr. Gooding.
But she doesn’t plan on merely being comfortable as a General Medical Officer in an Oncology Department. Dr. Gooding, moreover, will shortly travel abroad to pursue studies that will allow her to specialise in an area that she is already passionate about – Oncology.
“My dream, my passion, my heart lies with Guyana…so I will return to my country and help to make a difference wherever I can to help save the lives of cancer patients…this is what gives me satisfaction,” said Dr. Gooding.
Although the mother of one is hopeful that her life could be an inspiration to young people unsure of their path in life, she advised, “Success does not come easy; it requires hard work and dedication. Once you believe in yourself you will be able to achieve whatever you put your mind to. I believed I could become a doctor since I was in primary school and look where I am today!”
Added to this, Dr. Gooding said that since becoming a doctor she decided that “I will not just be a doctor, I will be a doctor who makes a difference and I will stand out, because I love what I am doing. I think I have accomplished a lot, but there is much more to be accomplished and I will do just that.”
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