Five years of ENT care at SMMC

November 2, 2023  -The Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Department of St. Maarten Medical Center recently celebrated its five-year anniversary. The clinic opened in 2018 and consists of fifteen (15) rotational Specialists from three top clinical hospitals in the Netherlands: Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei Ede, De Vijf Meren Kliniek Haarlem/Hoofddorp and Canisius Ziekenhuis Nijmegen, who provide ENT care to the people of St. Maarten 24/7. The Specialists work on a rotational basis of 4-6 weeks at a time and all have their own subspecialties making it possible for SMMC to cover all ENT pathology excluding oncological cases (cancer of the ear, nose or throat) which are referred abroad.

The clinic treats obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is often the cause of snoring, sinus issues, and hearing loss, and performs aesthetic facial surgery (rhinoplasty, etc), tonsillectomies and newborn hearing tests in collaboration with the Pediatrics Department. In his five years at SMMC, the most common cases ENT Specialist Dr. Dick Wong Chung has seen is ear infections, hearing loss and globus sensation which is the feeling of a lump in the throat that can lead to persistent clearing of the throat, chronic cough, and hoarseness.

The most complex case he has seen was a patient who presented to the Emergency Room with a gunshot wound in the neck. “When you see a patient with this type of injury, you are unsure of where the bullet is and you think is it in the trachea, the jugular, the carotid artery, the airway, the neck or the spine? What has the bullet damaged? All of these could have negative consequences and your first instinct is to do whatever you can to preserve the patient’s life”.

Dr. Wong Chung is proud that the biggest development at the clinic has been that most ENT care can be performed locally, reducing the need for off-island referrals. His favorite thing about working at SMMC is being warmly greeted by his colleagues at the start of every rotation. “I love when my colleagues say ‘Hello Doc, welcome back’ and make me feel welcomed. It has been five years already and I really enjoy it here”.

In addition to expanding and improving the level of ENT care in St. Maarten, ENT Specialist Dr. Wong Chung, and his colleagues have also been exploring new options to make care more accessible to patients who experience a language barrier. Dr. Wong Chung, like many other Specialists and nurses at SMMC, uses Google Translate to help communicate with his Spanish, Haitian Creole and Chinese-speaking patients.

“At my practice in the Netherlands, I have more and more patients who do not speak Dutch because they are refugees from Syria or Ukraine or other immigrants who have not yet learned the language and decided to apply the same approach here in St. Maarten. I found that the communication with the patient is better and it makes them feel heard and understood. This makes it easier for me to understand the problem and for them to understand the diagnosis and treatment plan better which leads to better patient outcomes. This also makes care more inclusive to deaf patients or patients experiencing hearing loss as it allows them to communicate without the use of sign language”.

The ENT Clinic’s approach is similar to other clinics within SMMC and aligns with the hospital’s mission of providing high-quality, patient-centered care close to home. Patients wishing to visit the ENT clinic can make an appointment by calling +1 (721) 543-1111 or 910 extension 1345 Monday through Friday, from 8:30am – 4:30pm.

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