Medical pioneer Dr. Sook Yin, who has spearheaded several healthcare screening and vaccine efforts over her almost four decades in the Cayman Islands, is retiring from daily practice.
But Yin says this does not mean she won’t be available to her patients and to the larger community. “I’ll still be around,” she told the Compass. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m retiring from my daily job, not from life.”
This article was written by Norma Connolly, and published in the Cayman Compass
Life for Yin over the 36 years she has been in Cayman has been a whirlwind of family life, general practice clinical work, volunteering, membership of charities, organising health fairs and screenings, fundraising, working with swimmers and even helping to put together a Guinness World Records bikini challenge. And it doesn’t look like retirement is likely to slow her down.
Since arriving in Cayman in 1987, Yin has been involved in many of Cayman’s health-related charities, most notably the Cayman Heart Fund and the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.
Her irrepressible enthusiasm for each cause with which she has been involved has helped drive such endeavours as making HPV vaccines available in local schools, getting the Cancer Registry off the ground, banning smoking in bars and restaurants, and acquiring the Caribbean’s first digital mammogram for the Cayman Islands Hospital.
She says she has no plans to halt her community efforts, and being freed from daily consultations at her Seven Mile Medical Clinic practice means she will have more time to concentrate on such causes, as well as being able to spend more time with her family, who are spread over several countries.
Her son Sai lives in the United Kingdom, her sister and brother in Singapore, and her 94-year-old mother and brother in Malaysia. Her daughter Jaime-Lee lives here in Cayman, where Yin will continue to reside, along with her three dogs.
The road to Cayman
Yin grew up in Ipoh, Malaysia, but moved to Northern Ireland to complete her A-Levels, before undertaking her university study and medical degree at Queen’s University in Belfast. She recalls that she worked in some of the toughest hospitals in Northern Ireland, at the height of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, often treating victims of Irish Republican Army attacks.
After she and her husband, Brian Eccles, relocated to Cayman, she worked with Dr. Steve Tomlinson at Professional Medical Centre. There, she said, she formed lifelong relationships with many of her patients which have now spanned multiple generations.
As she started her family, she decided she needed more regular working hours and joined Dr. Margo Coeman’s office as a general practitioner, eventually taking over the practice.
In 2010, she founded Seven Mile Medical Clinic, which she describes as her “pride and joy”.
Following her retirement on Friday, 29 Sept., Seven Mile Medical will remain operational under Dr. Sarah Cuff, a Caymanian doctor whom Yin has known since Cuff was a child visiting the clinic with her parents. Assisting Cuff will be Dr. Beatriz Esteban and Dr. Thomas Quin, who is also Caymanian.
Recognition for service
Yin has been recognised through a variety of awards and accolades over the years for her contributions to the welfare of the people of Cayman.
In the late Queen Elizabeth II’s 2012 birthday honours, Yin was chosen as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her contributions to medicine and charitable organisations in Cayman. She received her medal at Buckingham Palace from the then Prince Charles in July the following year.
In January, at National Heroes Day, which this year honoured Cayman’s volunteers and charities, Sook received a certificate of recognition for her work as a pioneering contributor to Cayman society.
She has a long history of advocating for better health in the community.
In 2002, she was appointed a director of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. She says, shortly after that, when Christine Mathews (now Sanders) joined the Cancer Society staff, together they made a formidable duo.
They advocated successfully for the ban on smoking in public places in Cayman in 2009; and that same year championed the introduction in the Cayman Islands of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, which is now part of the childhood vaccination schedule on island. They also helped raise $500,000 to purchase the first digital mammogram machine in the Cayman Islands and install it at the Cayman Islands Hospital in 2005.
The so-called ‘cancer ladies’ also introduced screening programmes for cervical and prostate cancer and worked tirelessly to raise cancer awareness in the Cayman Islands. They and the Cancer Society worked closely with the Health Services Authority to establish the Cancer Registry in 2011, which helps to track the prevalence of all kinds of cancers in Cayman.
Yin has also been heavily involved in promoting heart health, as a member of the board of the Cayman Heart Fund, founded by Suzy Soto in 2007. There, she championed screening for cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, and organised many free screening events.
Under the auspices of the Cayman Heart Fund, Yin also worked with other community partners to bring awareness to the need for healthier school meals and more physical activity at school to try and combat what she describes as the epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in Cayman. In 2009, she became a founding member of the Children’s Health Task Force, which promoted healthy eating in schools.
Yin remains an avid advocate of the vital importance of community screening programmes, saying they help identify people sometimes in late stages of disease, who often do not have the insurance coverage or funds to undergo regular health checks that might identify their conditions earlier.
She encourages people to take advantage of vouchers for free screening checks, such as the ones available for pap, PSA and oral from the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, or mammograms from the Breast Cancer Foundation, or for lung and heart disease checks from the Cayman Heart Fund.
“Many people have no money to go for check-ups, so that’s why we need to keep having the health fairs we put on,” she said.
Raising two children who were into swimming, Yin also became involved with the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association (now the Cayman Islands Aquatic Sports Association), and on several occasions, has served as team doctor for swimmers travelling to the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Her involvement with the swimming association, led in June 2010 to her being instrumental in Cayman achieving Guinness World Records recognition for the most people walking on the beach in a bikini. The effort, which served as a fundraiser for the association, culminated in 331 people wearing bikinis in a parade.
Yin giggles as she remembers the event, recalling the dichotomy of hundreds of people gathered on Seven Mile Beach, while professional accountants and auditors from BDO counted the participants. “It was quite a scene,” she said.
Yin has also been involved in several clinical trials over the years, as a treating physician and co-principal investigator at cancer treatment centre Perseus, including ones looking to find a treatment for end-stage kidney disease to prevent the need for dialysis, and one for a COVID-19 vaccine.
While her day-to-day general practice duties will end, she will continue to work as the medical director for Baptist Health South Florida Center in Cayman.
She says she is always gratified by the close medical community in the Cayman Islands, where many professionals cooperate with one another for the good of the wider society, at times presenting findings or recommendations to the health minister to help effect change.
“You can do that on a small island, in a small community, in ways you can’t do in big cities,” she said. “In a small place like this, we have a voice. … we can make a difference.”
Asked what she will miss most when she retires, she says, “Waking up in the morning and thinking ‘Great, I am going to the clinic and help some people to the best of my ability and have a good chat with them. I love people.”
The Cayman Islands Cancer Society would like to thank Dr Yin for her tireless efforts and achievements over the years, that benefitted CICS and the Cayman community.
She may be small, but she makes a big impact!