Simple moments can often define one’s path in life. For Idi Stuart, that moment was deciding to start nursing training in 2002, not knowing that a few days later he would have been invited to train for the TT Fire Service.
Stuart was born and raised in River Estate, Diego Martin. He's lived in Caura and now calls Tunapuna home. He owes his interest in nursing to his sister, Yasmin Phillip, who is a psychiatric nurse in London, England.
But his resume does not begin with nursing or anything even close to it. He in fact worked for seven years with Peake Industries, as a welder for three years and in quality control for four years. He'd studied welding at John Donaldson Technical Institute in Port of Spain, but he did not have the passion for the field and so took the opportunity to find a new path.
That path to nursing wasn't a straight one. He applied in many different areas, even briefly installing surveillance equipment before applying to both nursing and the Fire Service.
Stuart told WMN, “I always had it in the back of my mind that nursing was an option, but I applied to be a fire officer, as well. The opportunity to study as a psychiatric nurse came so I went for it.
“Within the first week of nursing training, I got a letter in the mail from the Fire Service, but I said it made no sense to stop training to start something else. Maybe things could have happened totally different if that letter had arrived two weeks earlier,” he said.
And what a decision it's turned out to be. Stuart, now 42, completed training in psychiatric nursing with the Ministry of Health in 2005 and started working at St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital in 2006.
He went on to complete a BSc in oncology nursing from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, a master’s in health administration at UTT and a professional certificate in industrial relations at the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business.
Stuart is also in his second term as president of the TT Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA), first elected to the position in 2018 and only the second male president in the association's 90-year history.
“There’s a real shortage of male nurses and we (the TTRNA) are trying to encourage males to get in. Still, males do not seem to want to come into the profession.
“(The lack of males) comes down to how we have been cultured, stereotyped and pigeon-holed into different segments. For example, men go into the police service, fire service and army while women go into nursing.”
However, Stuart believes the ideology being gendered about certain professions is shifting and sees this open-mindedness being a good environment to help men step forward into nursing.
“Nursing is a profession you cannot lose with; it will afford you the world of opportunity,” said Stuart, noting that worldwide data suggests a growing need for healthcare workers.
He wants his accomplishments to inspire other men considering nursing. Apart from being the current TTRNA president, Stuart was also elected one of the youngest ever TT Nursing Council members in 2016.
In 2019, he travelled to Switzerland where he completed a nursing leadership course at the Global Nursing Leadership Institute with the International Council of Nurses. The course was intended to empower nursing personnel to have policy-making skills.
He also met the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom, which he described as "a momentous moment in my career."
“When we see him on the television talking (during the covid19 pandemic), it’s good to know that I have had a first-hand meeting with the gentleman.”
While Stuart may have fearlessly progressed throughout his career and racked up many accomplishments, fatherhood has been his greatest yet most feared accomplishment.
Stuart and his wife, Alicia Charles-Stuart, welcomed son, Mathias, in 2015 and daughter, Maliah, in 2017. The couple married in 2016.
Describing how he felt about the birth of his children, Stuart said, “I guess, with every father, the first emotion that comes would be fear; questions of if you’ll be a good father and if you’ll live up to your expectations.”
Fear aside, Stuart said being a father has made him more grounded and focused, and changed his outlook and purpose.
“(When you become a father) you tend to not think about what makes you happy but what would make your children happy.”
With the international spotlight currently on the global covid19 pandemic and issues of racial inequality, Stuart said his job as a father becomes even more important.
“I firmly believe that you can shape a child’s mind.
“I bring my children up in fashion that they will be able to be respectful to all groups in society. I place emphasis on ensuring my children are able to withstand whatever the world throws at them.”
Stuart said, now more than ever, parents must make their children resilient and understanding of the world around them.
“Coming out of the Emancipation Committee Youth Arm and my father being a part of the NJAC (National Joint Action Committee), I have always been a part of difficult conversations regarding issues that are being brought to the forefront today.”
Stuart said he wants to instil values of understanding and resilience, and to ensuring his children understand the importance of family, take their education seriously and are placed in a position to realise their full potential.
He stressed the importance of nurturing children with a value for family over material items. At home, Stuart and his wife have designated family time where there are no electronic items like cellphones and TV.
“(As president of the TTRNA) I have learnt to schedule my life in such a way that would maximise my time.
“I have brought that over now into brining up my children and trying to educate them on how they can maximise their time and get the best out of a day.”
Stuart said the efforts are having a positive effect on his son who is in preschool. His son is performing well, as he learns the concepts of balancing schoolwork and leisure time.
However, the learning is not one way; as much as Stuart teaches his children, they teach him in return. He now understands life is a process of growth.
“The most challenging aspect of being a father, thus far, has been spending enough time with them. It is a 24-hour job as TTRNA president, as with most union leaders.
“Often, my son would say, 'Daddy, you are always on your phone.'
“What I used to do was wait until the weekend comes to spend that time but that wasn’t fair to them that they had to wait until weekend.”
Managing fatherhood and his work life, Stuart constantly challenges himself to reduce time on his laptop and cellphone. And he is making more time to be home. He admits he's had to make some personal sacrifices especially his love of playing sports. As a teen he played football, rugby, basketball, and table tennis.
“I just don’t have the time and energy (for sports). This is especially unfortunate given that I work in healthcare field. You should always make time to remain active.”
His advice for fathers or those looking forward to becoming a father? Make sure that fatherhood is what you want.
“Try to take it (fatherhood) in every day. Try to sit back and watch because they grow so fast, you will tend to miss a lot of key points if you are not around, so enjoy each day with them.”