Navigating Public Health Centres

The vast majority of us in Jamaica will have to engage the public health sector at some point in our lives, whether it is at the hospital level, clinic level or at the health centre.

In Jamaica, where public health care is free and not many persons can afford to see a private doctor, going to a health centre can be an all day thing because of the load of patients.

So how do you make that experience a better one?

Know about your nearest health centre.

It is a good idea to know what services they offer and when they offer it. Some health centres only have a doctor in a few times a week and others even offer blood tests.

Not only is knowing what they offer important, but also when. Find out the clinic days, where they usually only see chronic illness patients and emergencies, and general clinic days. This will save you from being turned back for a non emergent issue.

Go early

The truth is, the earlier you go, the earlier you get through. Remember there are persons there who have appointments already, and if you need to see the doctor (without and appointment) chances are others do too.

Often times, health centres have to triage patients and unfortunately, some patients may be asked to come another day based on the triage system.

Make an appointment (if you can)

If you’ve been having a problem for months now, and now you want to get it checked out, making an appointment might be a better bet than going into triage.

This is only if the problem has stayed constant over this period of time… if you have worsening pain or a cut that hasn’t healed in months… don’t bother waiting for an appoint just go!

Be prepared to wait

Unfortunately, that’s just how it is. Many health centres see over 50 patients per day and they’re usually short staffed. The workers are people too and need to take breaks to use the bathroom of have lunch. So come prepared to wait. Take the day off if you can (if not come super early and explain your situation),  bring something to entertain yourself and bring food/ money.

Listen to the morning talks.

Every morning, health centre workers have a talk about a medically relevant topic, don’t ignore the talk. You can learn a lot about medical issues happening in the country at that time and also how to identify the illness as well as protect yourself from getting it. Listen!

Be Kind

Yes, it can be frustrating, you waited two hours to see the doctor, now you have to wait 3 hours to get your medication. Yes, you see a patient come after you and they get seen before you. Yes, doctor a work too slow and you have things to do.

Keep in mind that these are persons working in often under resourced centres that are short staffed. The long waiting time is not out of spite. You may be getting angry and frustrated, but cussing and “going on bad” really isn’t going to make much of a difference in how long you have to wait or when you’ll be seen.

Try to understand the situation and prepare yourself for the long wait.


Free health care has allowed a lot of persons to access care that would otherwise have been fiscally difficult for them. However, public health care in Jamaica is under resourced, which means that it may not run as efficiently and smoothly as persons would like.

If you have to engage the system, understand the limitations and prepare for them. If you think they’re ways that it can improve, don’t be afraid to write the suggestion, tell a worker or even your representative in parliament!

What are your thoughts on free health care in Jamaica? Let me know below!

Samantha C. Johnson

Featured photo by Jonas Jacobsson from Unsplash.

3 Replies to “Navigating Public Health Centres”

  1. Spot on target! This is exactly what I explain to patients while they’re are waiting impatiently to be seen. I would also add that clinics serve multiple type of clients and not everyone is there to see a doctor. Sometimes folks get frustrated because they perceive people coming after them and leaving before they do, but patients come to see the dentist, the nurse, the midwife etc and those services are typically quicker than a curative visit.

    Liked by 1 person

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