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Senior Public Health Nurse at the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, Charmaine Vassell - Shettlewood.
Photo: Contributed

Story Highlights

  • Nurse Vassell- Shettlewood says that although she has been at the forefront of other public health emergencies, the COVID – 19 pandemic is unique in its scope and multi- sector impact.
  • “I have self-isolated since March 14. I was on vacation leave when I was called upon to resume work. Most of us (health professionals) have self- isolated because we don’t want to put our family members at risk. We instead communicate using WhatsApp, FaceTime and other avenues. We are not spending the time we normally would with our families,” she says.
  • “All of my students have my number. They know that if they need any guidance in the clinical area they know if they have any concerns, they can feel free to call me anytime and I respond and offer guidance…I spend quality time with them because I want them to be good nurses,” she says.

For over 30 years, veteran public health nurse, Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood has dedicated her life in service to her country.

She tells JIS News that nursing is in her blood and has been a passion since childhood.

She is one of four siblings, who pursued nursing careers and has a niece, who is a medical doctor.

“I believe that I am called by God to be a nurse. There was no point in my life growing up that I wanted to be anything else but to be a nurse. It was just in me to be a nurse. God wanted me to be a nurse to assist people,” Nurse Vassell-Shettlewood says.

She notes that although she has had opportunities to work abroad, she fells compelled to use her abilities to help her country, a decision that has resulted in her invaluable knowledge being applied at a time when Jamaica faces one of the biggest public health emergencies in recent history, with the advent of the coronavirus (COVID – 19).

Currently, she is the Senior Public Health Nurse and In- service Coordinator at the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, where she has worked for the past 20 years, with oversight for eight health facilities – Edna Manley, Stony Hill, Golden Spring, Parks Road, Essex Hall, King Weston, Mount Charles and Lawrence Tavern.

As a critical frontline worker in the public health sector’s COVID – 19 response, her duties include training community health aides, public health nurses and staff, who are working in the field.

“This includes contact tracing for persons, who test positive for the virus, delivery of quarantine and relief letters, as well as temperature and spot checks to ensure that quarantined persons are adhering to the Government’s quarantine rules,” she outlines.

Nurse Vassell- Shettlewood says that although she has been at the forefront of other public health emergencies, the COVID – 19 pandemic is unique in its scope and multi- sector impact.

“We have had many outbreaks but the difference between COVID – 19 and other diseases we have had, is that this one has impacted the entire world and this one comes with a higher level of stigma and discrimination and crosses all sectors,” she tells JIS News.

Noting the impact of the virus on frontline workers, Nurse Vassell-Shettlewood says in addition to discrimination, one of the most challenging consequences has been the effect on family life.

“I have self-isolated since March 14. I was on vacation leave when I was called upon to resume work. Most of us (health professionals) have self- isolated because we don’t want to put our family members at risk. We instead communicate using WhatsApp, FaceTime and other avenues. We are not spending the time we normally would with our families,” she says.

She adds that public health workers now work longer shifts to keep up with the increased demand on the system.
“We are now basically working seven days per week, 12 hours per day (or more). We go home, get a little shut eye and then we are back on the job. We are spending more time at work than anywhere else,” she says.

Despite these challenges, she remains undaunted, and pledges to continue to work until retirement.

“I enjoy what I do and I love nursing with a passion. If I had the opportunity to live my life – to live all over again – I would certainly choose nursing,” Nurse Vassell- Shettlewood says.

A clinical preceptor at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) since 2009, she relishes her role in steering the future generation of nurses.

She is responsible for guiding the students’ clinical learning experience, bridging the gap between the classroom and nursing practice.

Under her capable tutelage and guidance, hundreds of young public health trainees have been equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to function effectively in the country’s health system.

Nurse Vassell-Shettlewood tells JIS News that she sees her role as more than a trainer and maintains an open line of communication with all her students to ensure that they are able to seek advice whenever necessary.

“All of my students have my number. They know that if they need any guidance in the clinical area they know if they have any concerns, they can feel free to call me anytime and I respond and offer guidance…I spend quality time with them because I want them to be good nurses,” she says.

She notes that she has developed close relationships with her students, which continue even after they have gone on to pursue their professional careers.

Currently pursuing a PhD in psychology, Nurse Vassell-Shettlewood is a registered nurse, registered midwife and a public health nurse with a master in public health.

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