After more than 42 years serving the Cayman Islands community as a public health nurse, Alice Jane Ebanks is hanging up her stethoscope. One of the longest-serving Cayman Islands Hospital employees will not be spending her upcoming free time resting, though, and anyone who knows her will not be surprised by that.
First on her to-do list after her 24 January retirement is to travel, with South Africa, Brazil, Peru and the Galapagos Islands among her intended destinations. Her 60th birthday may legally require her to quit government service, but she looks years younger and clearly has a youthful spirit.
“I’m going to live as hard as I can; I’m going to use up all my energy before I die,” she says, with what seems like a continuous smile.
But with nursing part of her DNA, she doesn’t plan to stray too far from her lifelong calling of service. “When I am not travelling, I will be finding some very fulfilling voluntary work to do – at my church, helping children in school.”
Alice Jane also envisions some sort of return to her professional home of the last four decades. “I will probably come back to work part-time, maybe immunise children. I like to work with little children,” she says, explaining that her retirement doesn’t preclude working on a contract basis if you are able and willing to do the job.
“I will do anything else that needs to be done as long as I can finish my work at the end of the day!”
Health Services Authority Chief Nursing Officer Hazel Brown says Alice Jane was a natural for the job.
“Alice Jane has displayed all of the characteristics one expects of a great nurse. Her commitment to her profession, her reliability,her honesty and even her punctuality have made her a valuable asset through her many years of service,” Ms. Brown says.
“And, on top of the demands of her job, Alice Jane was always ready and willing to teach others. To put it simply, her contributions to public health have been enormous and her departure is a great loss to all of us here at the HSA.”
Her journey at the HSA began in 1971, when she entered the auxiliary nursing programme at the hospital, at the relatively tender age of 17. “In my heart, I wanted to do nursing, “ Alice Jane recalls. “Even from primary school days, I was drawn to caring for people.”
Recounting all she has done at the hospital could certainly fill a book. She has worked in nearly every department, including medical, surgical, paediatrics and emergency, and in the early years they were all part of her job description.
“In those days, you did every single thing,” she remembers. “You were doctor, nurse, porter and cleaner, if necessary. It’s amazing how nurses can cope.”
Along the way, she qualified as a practical nurse, a registered nurse and a midwife. In 1983, she decided she was “looking for something else” and was encouraged to try public health, clearly a life-changing turn of events. A one-year course in the Public Health School of Nursing in Jamaica followed.
“Public health was my thing, and in 1987 I took over the management of the immunisation programme,” she says. The learning was continuous and part of her work involved attending regional courses, conferences and immunisation meetings.
Dr. Kiran Kumar, Medical Officer of Health, speaks of his appreciation for “her 27 years of excellent service as Immunization Programme Manager in the Cayman Islands. While there have been challenges at times, our immunization programme was recognized in the region, receiving awards from Pan American Health Organization under her leadership.
“She is smart, intelligent, knowledgeable, energetic and skilled. It has been a pleasure working with her during her entire career in public health. I wish her an enjoyable retirement. May God bless her.”
Lizzette Yearwood, HSA CEO, notes all Alice Jane has done while in Public Health. “Her tireless efforts have been instrumental to the success of our immunisation programme. She is emblematic of the excellent quality of care that the HSA seeks to provide. Alice Jane will certainly be missed.”
Despite her accomplishments, Alice Jane says there is always more to be done.
“The work is endless and we keep expanding our schedule to do more and more antigens for the children.”
Helping young people is a running theme. She has also managed the child health clinics, including a weekly one for six-week-olds. There is another clinic for tuberculosis tests, communicable disease investigations, organising Vaccination Week every April. The list goes on.
The work has not been without a bit of adventure as well. About 20 years ago, a man on Cayman Brac became critically ill and so the call went out to send a plane to take him to Grand Cayman for treatment. “I said I would go; when called, of course you have to help. There were four of us – me, the captain, the co-pilot and another nurse – on this six-seater plane.
“The plane was so small and the wind was blowing this little plane around. I felt it was going to drop out of the sky. I told the other nurse, ‘We’ll make the headlines: Nurses die in service!’”
On the return trip, she was busy taking care of the patient so there was no time to be afraid. “I wasn’t thinking of myself anymore.”
This commitment to others has always been her hallmark. “When you save patients who come in critically ill, there’s no more fulfilling feeling. That’s your reward. You don’t even need to be paid.”
Alice Jane’s service to the hospital will be commemorated at a special HSA gathering in the hospital’s Hibiscus Room on 24 January.