Date of Birth: 30th May 1943
FIRST NATION: the native peoples of Canada
FOETAL TISSUE TRANSPLANT: surgery that uses cells from foetuses (unborn children) to reconstruct organs. These transplants can cure many disorders that cannot be cured otherwise.
NEUROSURGERY: surgery that treats disorders of the brain, nerves, and spinal cord
PARKINSON’S DISEASE: a disorder found in the elderly, caused by the breakdown of certain brain cells. Patients display slow speech, reduced judgment, movement problems, and later on, memory loss and personality changes. The disease is fatal.
Renn Holness was a top athlete at Jamaica College. He won the 100, 200, and 440 yard sprints at his school’s Track and Field Championships in 1960 and 1961, and was the opening bowler for the cricket team.
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 2
Dr Renn Holness is known for his selfless efforts to improve Caribbean healthcare and instruct healthcare professionals. Through his students, Dr Holness is determined to prove that Caribbean doctors can be numbered among the best in the world.
Renn Holness was born on 30th May, 1943 in Kingston, Jamaica. He attended Blake Preparatory School and Jamaica College, where he excelled. He began studying medicine at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona on a scholarship and then left for Guy’s Hospital in England where he completed his Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Anatomy in 1964. He finished his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at UWI, Mona, graduating at the top of his class in 1968.
After graduating, Holness interned at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital in Trinidad from 1968 to 1969. He then spent a year undertaking his general surgery residency at the University of Michigan, USA, completing it in 1972. He went on to do his neurosurgery residency in Canada at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto, finishing in 1976. Dr Holness began his neurosurgery practice in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1977.
Over the next 10 years, he became Professor of Neurosurgery and Head of Neurosurgery at Dalhousie Medical School and Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. In 1992, he became the first person in Canada to perform foetal tissue transplants to rebuild brain cells and treat Parkinson’s disease. During the 1990’s, he was a key player on the committee that devised incentives for First Nation and black students to attend Dalhousie University’s medical school.
Dr Holness has given back to the Caribbean, often dedicating many of his periods of leave to this purpose. He lectured as a visiting professor at UWI campuses and played the role of mentor in the lives of his students. He arranges for Caribbean students to pursue electives in Canada, sometimes at personal expense, and lends his expertise to governments and hospitals in the region. In 1993, he did a three-month sabbatical at the UWI medical school in Barbados and in 2000, he served as Acting Director of the Clinical Program at the UWI School of Medicine in Nassau for six months, until a permanent director was hired. He arranged the transfer of surplus medical equipment from the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre to Caribbean hospitals, and directed the Bahamian government to recruit a neurosurgeon, whom he mentored personally, thus bolstering the country’s capability in neurosurgery.
Dr Holness was chair of the examining board in neurosurgery for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He was also President of the Canadian Neurological Society during the 1990s.
For youngsters considering medicine, he advises that, “Success in medical school is not purely related to marks… but also having a genuine interest in human beings.”