Saving lives in early retirement

Jasmin Hanley alumni profile pictureMost people’s retirement plans include travel and relaxation, not setting up a medical training school in the hopes of tackling a persistent and devastating health problem.‌

Meet Jasmin Hanley.

 Retiring from the position of Laboratory Manager at the Joseph N France General Hospital in Saint Kitts, where she worked for more than 30 years, Hanley founded the Mediserv Training School of Cytology in February 2012, to teach medical laboratory technologists how to better identify premalignant and malignant cancer cells of the cervix.

 According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, with about 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year. About 80 per cent of cases occur in low-income or less-developed countries. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pan America Health Organization, a division of WHO, estimates cervical cancer mortality rates are seven times higher than in North America, indicating that early screening and follow-up treatment is a cost-effective way to deal with the problem.

 “Our incidence of cervical cancer here in this region is much higher than we want it to be. I know that with proper training, things can be better. That is my focus. I want to make a difference,” says the SMU grad.

 Hanley grew up in Saint Kitts, leaving home in 1977 to attend Saint Mary’s University, where she did a BSc in Biology and Chemistry. Other islanders had attended Saint Mary’s and Hanley liked what she heard about their experiences. “It was a smaller campus and the city was not too large,” she says. “And it was near the seaside. That was important to me, having grown up on an island.”

 Hanley loved her time at Saint Mary’s and took an active role in student life. She became president of the Biology Society and was a member of both the Caribbean Students Association and the International Students Association. She excelled at her studies and was named valedictorian for the 1981 graduating class.

Time for a Change

 In 1996, after working for several years in Saint Kitts, Hanley decided to further her education with a MSc in Clinical Cytology at Imperial College London in England, before returning to Saint Kitts where she took on a managerial role at the local hospital.

 Frustrated by the continuing high rates of cervical cancer and ready for a change, the idea of setting up the school began to form in Hanley’s mind. At present, there are half a dozen students training in the school’s program but Hanley would like to see that number grow by bringing in students from outside the Caribbean region.

 Getting the school established and keeping it running is time-consuming, but Hanley firmly believes her efforts will make a difference. “This is a preventable cancer and a cancer that can be treated successfully, if caught early. I know things can be better.”

 And that “downtime” most people crave with retirement? That time will come, Hanley said. In the meantime she enjoys travelling with her husband, a Cuban national. “I got to show him Halifax in 2005 and we’d love to return again. Maybe someday soon when I’m not as busy!”