St. George's University

I had been involved with St. George’s University in Grenada from shortly after its inception in the mid-seventies. My father had been the first vice chancellor and instrumental in achieving the initial academic credibility and survival of the institution. I had served as the first chairman of the psychiatry department, a very limited job in the early years, but one which grew substantially over time. My father died in 1988 and ten years later I became vice chancellor. (The university used British academic nomenclature with vice chancellor being the equivalent to president in the US system.)

St. George’s had been established initially as a medical school for American students who, while meeting the admission standards, had failed to get into a US medical school. The number of qualified students well exceeded the available slots. Over time the student body has gradually evolved with a steady increase in students from countries other than the US. At the time I left in 2002 there were students from more than 80 countries.

I had always been concerned that it was hard to justify a university for foreigners that did little to advance the education of the local population and even more inexcusable a first world medical school that did little to improve the health of the citizens of the country where it was located. During my time at St. George’s I was particularly focussed on these issues. As vice chancellor between 1998 and 2002 I considered my major accomplishments to have been:

1)   Turning a Medical School into a University. My top priority was to  create a new image for St. George’s boosting the reputation of themedical school and giving the institution an identity as a full- fledged university. Disparaged for many years as a second rate institution for students who failed to get in elsewhere despite excellent  exam results and placement of its graduates in top residencies across America, St. George’s needed to have its prestige elevated. I worked hard to use my own standing and reputation on both sides of the Atlantic to elevate its credibility. Using my network of contacts from the White House and the United Nations I brought speakers to campus who had a worldwide reputation both in medicine and in other fields.  My aim was to boost the image that the students and the faculty had of their own institution and also to have the speakers go away as “ambassadors” for the university, speaking well of it in their own networks. In the longer term the university’s enhanced reputation enabled me to hire faculty members of a greater stature, further burnishing the university’s image.

2)   Expansion of the School of Arts and Sciences. My immediate predecessor, Dr Keith Taylor, had begun the initial steps to create a school of arts and sciences aimed primarily at Grenadian students. I set out to expand the operation offering a wide range of liberal arts courses including pre-med programs. The greatest obstacle was the very limited fees that most Grenadian and other West Indian students could afford to pay and the reluctance of the board of trustees to subsidize the loss making proposition too heavily. This meant that salaries for faculty were low and it was hard to recruit people of the calibre I wanted. Over time, however, the program has gradually grown so that there are now more than 1,000 undergraduate arts and sciences students. It quickly became apparent that the most popular courses were business and other tracks with practical application once a student graduated. A number of courses designed to broaden the students general education had to be dropped. But that unfortunately was part of the reality with which I was dealing.

  •  Veterinary School.  The premise upon which the medical school was started, namely that there were a large number of qualified applicants who could not get into US medical schools, seemed to me to apply equally well to the field of veterinary. There was already one veterinary school in the Caribbean operated by Ross University. Early in my tenure I began a feasibility study for a veterinary school. My plan was approved by the chancellor and board of trustees in February 1999 with a projected date to take in the first class of September 2000. The chancellor asked “Why can we not start it this September?”  Any hesitancy I had was swept away when a commitment was made to find the necessary money and begin building the facilities right away. I set off to visit veterinary schools throughout the US as well as in Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland. For six months I was on a very steep learning curve about veterinary education. I would not have met the September deadline had it not been for the fact that Dr David Hogg, a veterinarian, was already on campus teaching comparative anatomy in the medical school. David had earlier experience developing a veterinary school in Zambia. I invited him to become the first dean of St. George’s new veterinary school and together we put the program together. Initially we were recruiting faculty only one term ahead of the students. The veterinary school has become a significant success, graduating not only US and Canadian students but also a regular flow from the Caribbean. The school has always been operated in collaboration with Grenadian governments veterinary services and has contributed significantly to improving the health of animals in the country.

  • Public Health. From its inception St. George’s University Medical School provided, annually, five full scholarships to Grenadian students and three to students from St Vincent. Most upon graduation left to pursue careers in the US or the UK so the impact on the health of the people in their countries was not greatly affected. I started a Masters of Public Health degree with the hope that it would serve both Caribbean students who would stay in the region and international students. With no other MPH program in the English-speaking Caribbean it quickly attracted a number of physicians from Grenada and other islands, most in government positions who wanted to add a public health degree  and expertise to their qualifications. It also attracted from each medical school class a number of students who wanted a dual degree. It was my hope that this would draw them into careers in public health.


  • Marine biology. Given its unique location and pristine reefs starting a marine biology program made a great deal of sense. I established a collaborative relationship with the marine biology program at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, the oldest and one of the most prestigious in the world. They provided faculty on loan and the high level of expertise for the program. The university built specialized labs and purchased an ocean going vessel. It was, however, hard to recruit students who could afford the tuition, especially those from the Caribbean for whom the program was particularly designed. A small group of students received an excellent education. I also built connections with other UK and US institutions enabling them to use the university’s facilities in Grenada for their own marine biology courses sending students for short courses.

  • Cricket.  For years the West Indies had been one of the towering forces in world cricket. In the 1990s their successes had declined, particularly as other countries developed cricket academies to train their players and the West Indies continued to rely on raw talent alone. The president of the West Indies board asked me if St. George’s would be willing to host a “Cricket Academy” for budding West Indies players. With funding that we received from the Shell Oil Company the academy was established and over the next several years virtually all those who played for the West Indies team were graduates of the program on the St. George’s campus. For me the creation of the cricket academy was the most important things the university had done in its thirty year history to establish its credibility throughout the Caribbean. It resulted in positive publicity throughout the region giving the university recognition for the first time as no longer an alien entity to be shunned but instead as an institution that was an indigenous part of the society worthy of embrace.

  • Cardiology Program. Rozann Hansford was the wife of an accomplished scientist at the National Institutes of Health. He had come to St. George’s as the chairman of biochemistry. Rozann had a background as the senior cardiac nurse at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore and had approached me about setting up a program to treat people with heart disease in the Grenadian population. A small program had existed to identify children with congenital heart disease and send them to the US for surgery.  Nothing existed for adults and there was no cardiologist resident in Grenada. We arranged to bring a series of visiting cardiologists from the US, one coming each month for a week. Rozann alerted all of the primary care physicians and asked them to refer heart patients to be seen at a cardiology clinic that ran all week. Patients were evaluated and diagnosed then put on medical regimen for them to follow with their regular physician, provided with a pace-maker if necessary, or referred to the US for surgery. In a six year period more than 5,000 patients were seen and treated. Many lives were saved. I was particularly gratified by this program because it honored what I felt was an obligation to have the university play a significant role in improving the health of Grenadians.

  • The Institute for Caribbean and International Studies. Because St. George’s University is, at least on paper, a profit making corporation it is ineligible to receive foundation grants or other tax-exempt contributions. I set up the Institute for Caribbean and International Studies to make it possible for the university to sponsor conferences, research projects, and other initiatives outside the traditional teaching functions. During my tenure it was responsible for organizing a major conference on HIV/AIDS problems in the Caribbean basin with funding from the United Nations Development Program and various foundations.

Since I left Grenada the university has continued to grow. The medical school takes in around 800 students a year and has continued to extend its reach recruiting throughout the world. St. George’s medical graduates now fill 5% of all residency training slots in the US. The university has received not only acceptance into the main stream of international education but the medical and veterinary schools are considered to be of the highest standard. The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) has signed an exclusive agreement with St. George’s giving it the exclusive right as an international medical school to use its system of 11 acute care hospitals to train its medical students in. The school of arts and sciences is the fastest growing school in the university rivalling the University of the West Indies in providing undergraduate education for students from the region. It offers pre-med and pre-vet education as well as a variety of business courses. These include courses relevant to the tourism industry. In the aftermath of hurricane “Ivan” the economy of Grenada has become increasingly entwined with that of the university. Global education, as a result, is increasingly that small nation’s number one industry.

 Peter Bourne

© Peter G. Bourne - 2009