Professor Vernon Solomon

    Vice President of Administration & Community Affairs at American University of Antigua (AUA)

    Imparting quality education and skills to the youth is one of the priorities of Prime Minster Gaston Browne. Please give us your output of the education sector in Antigua & Barbuda and how can it be improved?

    The local government has not only improved the economy, the strides made by the education sector have been phenomenal with the new Five Islands campus coming on stream. The government has been very supportive of educational institutions and students who attend university in Antigua have access to high quality education. Antigua is located centrally within the region and it is the one of the centers of excellence for education in the Caribbean.
    For medical studies, the Five Islands Campus has many schemes in collaboration with the AUA, we have a pre-med program and graduate studies program. Our aim is to increase the number of physicians within North America.

    As the Vice-President of Administration and Community Affairs at the American University Antigua what are the main challenges being faced in the higher education sector? How are you combating these challenges at the AUA?

    The hurricane season may impose a challenge as people feel apprehensive about coming to the island especially for the North American clientele. The world economy is also a challenge, low growth means students will not have the funds required to attend university. We offer six to eight scholarships per annum to Antiguan and Barbudan nationals to provide them the opportunity to attend medical school.

    The AUA College of Medicine was founded with an inaugural class of nine students in 2004, it is an innovative medical school dedicated to providing a learner-centric education of the highest quality. What are your main priorities in your current role as VP at American University Antigua? And what are your objectives for 2020? 

    The students are the main priority, we want to make sure that they succeed. We are very student centered, from the faculty and staff that are employed to the design of the curriculum.
    The primary objective of the university for the past 15 years has always been to support underserved communities and to address the impending physician shortage with an emphasis on primary care. We recognize our social responsibility to lead this next generation of physicians to be able to respond to modern healthcare needs.

    In 2016, AUA partnered with Florida International University (FIU) to offer the Global Health MD Programs. In 2018, the first students to complete the Global Health MD program began clinical rotations at FIU. What do you aim to achieve with the Global Health MD program and why is it so important for your students to do clinical rotations in the US?

    Our students go abroad for their clinical rotations, it is divided between the US, Canada, the UK and India. The purpose of the Global Health MD program is to support and guide students in developing their expertise in global health. The clinical core rotation program allows our students to compete their rotation at the medical faculty of FIU. Students get positive exposure through this program, they get to speak to faculty and individuals that have public health backgrounds. One of our biggest strength is our diversity, we have students and teachers coming from within the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, America and have been exposed to different kinds of regional medicinal practices.

    In 2016, AUA earned a seven-year approval from the New York State Education Department, the longest term granted to international medical schools. What opportunities do you see in this partnership with the New York State Education Department?

    Having these accreditations solidifies our mission statement. It shows our students and others what AUA really stands for as well as showing the quality of the program that is offered by AUA. Around 70-80% of our students are North Americans.

    In 2018, AUA’s Emergency Management Training Center (EMTC) conducted the first-ever Prehospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS) course in the of Eastern Caribbean States region. What would you say are your college’s biggest strengths? And how successful has this course been?
    We are very proud of the Emergency Management Training Center. We started with a pre-hospital care training well over ten years ago. By conducting this specific training it now takes the pre-hospital care providers on par with international standards. By providing such elevated training, we hope to increase the survival rate of the person involved in a traumatic event.

    Innovation in the field of education is key for fast-paced development. How important is it for AUA?

    Innovation is crucial, especially for the Emergency Management Training Center. Clinical simulation and pre-hospital care training also need technology, you now have the ability to simulate real life exercises in this controlled environment with high fidelity manikins. We also have a very high quality standardized patient program where professional patients come in and simulate different diseases, it brings medicine alive. Audio, visuals and cameras are integrated with a software and that information is communicated via mobiles or tablets to our students, we now have smart boards in homerooms. Technology is well ingrained in the curriculum and how it is designed, mapped and shared with students.

    The higher education space in Antigua and the Caribbean is very competitive. What differentiates American University Antigua from universities such as the University of West Indies and Metropolitan University in the country and in the region? And what is your competitive advantage? 

    Our mission, international partners and employees differentiates us from our competitors. The accreditations we have also set us apart, they include a title for funding, the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP), we are recognized by the board of California, New York State, the Florida Department of Education, the Medical Counsel of India (MCI) as well as approval from the general medical counsel in the UK.

    Human Resources is a challenge in Antigua and Barbuda. How do you source and train your teachers? What steps are being taken to ensure that teachers continue to develop their professional skills?

    Most of our recruiting is done from the US, our employees have the skills, ability and credentials to provide a very high level of education. Apart from the US, we have members of staff coming from the UK and India. We have an internal department called the Educational Enhancement Department (EED) which is primarily for our students, it teaches them study habits and techniques for them to succeed. PHD professors oversee the department and also conduct faculty development workshops. We encourage our faculty member to go and attend professional development conferences every year. Many of them are also practicing physicians and as such continue their education. We also support our staff being members of various societies where they can exchange ideas.

    AUA was founded with the commitment to support underserved communities and to address the impending physician shortage with an emphasis on primary care. Scholarships and merit based awards are available to a large number of students. What is the contribution of the university in terms of CSR activities?

    Scholarships and our television show are part of our CSR activities. We actively participate in health fairs helping citizens with diabetes, cancer, hypertension and non-communicable issues which are primary issues in Antigua and Barbuda. We started a non-profit called centre named Pan-Caribbean (CPC) health education which aims to provide educational scholarships and funds for various types of events. Our students are actively involved in one of our projects called the “Care Project”, we are constantly raising funds. Within the university, the students have a number of student lead groups where they collect funding for different charitable organizations. We have partnered with Mount Saint John’s hospital on a number of occasions. Within the simulation lab, we have often worked to develop Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits for either nurses or physicians. We are an American Heart Association Training Center meaning the same programs that are offered to health care providers in the US can be offered in Antigua, local healthcare practitioners utilize that as a resource to become CLS, PLS or PALS certified. We give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training at schools, hotels and even within the ministries, we also work with the police and fire departments.

    You joined AUA in 2007 and were recently appointed Vice President for Administrative Services and Community Affairs. What do you feel most proud of in your personal life?

    AUA has become like a family to me, I have grown with the institution and some of my colleagues have been working here since the beginning and as such we have grown together. What I am most proud of is this family sensation, when you see the students graduating with their medical degree (MD) in their hands, it gives you that amazing sense of accomplishment.

    What is your final message for Miami Herald readers who consider Antigua & Barbuda as a potential destination for higher education and especially in the medical space?

    We are relatively young in comparison to other medical schools in the Caribbean however in our first fifteen years we have come a long way with fourteen different types of accreditations and recognitions. Our graduates have the opportunity to receive a quality education and practice medicine throughout the world. In fact, over 2600 students have graduated from AUA and have attained residency in over 750 hospitals around the globe. We have never deviated from our mission which is centered around giving opportunities to under-served minorities and ensuring that our graduates develop their professional skills with a lifelong learning attitude. We provide students without the means to receive medical education with the tools to become successful physicians. Exciting times are coming ahead and I cannot wait to see the future development of the institution.