On March 20, the Virgin Islands Medical Society (VIMS) honored Tai Hunte-Caesar, M.D., with the VIMS Physician Recognition Award for her leadership and commitment as a physician during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Emanuel Graham, president of the Virgin Islands Medical Society, presented the award, highlighting his immense joy to present it to one who has worked tirelessly on the pandemic. Dr. Hunte-Caesar works as the V.I. Department of Health’s chief physician responsible for protecting the USVI public’s health.””
Dr. Cora Christian, the executive secretary/treasurer of the Virgin Islands Medical Society, introduced the award to a virtual audience of physicians, saying, “The year 2020 was challenging. Masks, quarantine, social distancing and waiting to gather with friends were words not in our collective conscience before 2020. Hanging out, hugging our loved ones, visiting our older folks was almost forbidden.
“We, as residents, started to change our behavior. We, as physicians, jumped in to help as best we could to do our part. Public health took center stage. Many of us answered the call to contribute, ensuring that the U.S. Virgin Islands’ response to one of the most significant public health challenges in our lifetime would limit suffering and loss of life.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many of the social and structural inequalities that exist. Yet, to a large extent, the U.S. Virgin Islands’ response was to stand tall united against a common foe, the SARS CoV2 virus. Some worked on increasing testing; others provided access to vaccination; others educated as many as possible about the virus and the vaccine. Many others treated those who, unfortunately, were affected by the SARS CoV2 virus.
“But there was one constant voice, one physician, that was doing it all. Tai Hunte-Caesar, small in stature but large in impact, shaped the territory’s response as the lead physician as the infectious disease specialist. She helped strengthen the resolve of the front-line health workers and the public health community that we had the tools needed to safeguard our residents.
“She worked 24/7 treating, advising, counseling, recommending and even at times pushing back. Her leadership as a physician deserves recognition as we continue to battle this virus but as we see signs of light at the end of the tunnel. 2021 gives us much to be hopeful for.”
The award, an original painting of moko jumbies by Jeoffre George of St. Croix, was chosen with much care for its symbolism as an artistic representation of the protectors of our village, the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The image is also surreal for the moko jumbies all have on masks and are socially distanced.
Hunte-Caesar was born and raised on St. Thomas. She attended Kirwan Terrace Elementary and Adelita Cancryn Junior High Schools prior to graduating from Charlotte Amalie High School. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree and a medical degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Hunte-Ceasar completed an internal and social medicine residency program and a fellowship in infectious diseases at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Hunte-Caesar is board-certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases. She has a Master of Science Degree in public health from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and has eleven publications.
She currently serves as the chief medical officer of the Department of Health in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is the health care branch lead for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unified Command Response. She is a staff physician and the chair for Infection Control at the Schneider Regional Medical Center. She is married to a local pharmacy owner, and they have one daughter. Her parents are Dr. Wishbourne Hunte and Maureen Hunte.
In accepting the award, Dr. Hunte-Caesar emphasized that she is part of a hardworking team. Although she is highly honored, she knows it would not be possible without the support of the Bryan administration, the staff and leadership of the many departments that continue to work on the pandemic as well as the physicians in the private sector who support and assist the public health sector as we all try to defeat the virus.
It is important to note that this award was a surprise. And guess where Dr. Hunte-Caesar was when she was called to update the physician community at the VIMS Zoom meeting on a Saturday at 11 a.m.? She was on St. John at the Morris deCastro Clinic vaccinating the St. John population – actual proof of why she received this recognition.