January 19, 2016
Perseverance, personality and a little help from her dad. That’s how Amy Jarvis, MD—a 2003 graduate of Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM)—got to where she is now.
Jarvis, a vascular neurologist at the Miami-Dade Neuroscience Institute (MDNI), boils her success down to three things. “Be nice. Be a team player. And persevere like it’s nobody’s business. That’s 9/10ths of the game right there,” says Jarvis, now the medical director of the Primary Stroke Center at North Shore Medical Center in Miami. She’s also a member of the Advanced Neuroscience Network (ANN), an integrated delivery system of medical professionals and hospitals focused on offering a full continuum of neurological care throughout South Florida. Both North Shore and MDNI are members of the network.
Her medical career spans more than a decade—she’s evaluated NFL athletes from the Jacksonville Jaguars for concussion and possible neurological trauma, spoken on behalf of an international pharmaceutical company on stroke and atrial fibrillation, and served as director of stroke for two separate healthcare facilities.
And she isn’t accustomed to backing down from a challenge. So it makes sense that years ago, when someone told her she had no shot of getting into medical school, she didn’t take no for an answer.
They Said Her Admission Chances Were Zero.
When Jarvis decided to make a career change to medicine—she originally came from the commodities sector, brokering coffees and cocoa in locales ranging from London to Cameroon—it didn’t shake her up much when someone gave her a less-than-favorable prognosis on her chances of getting into medical school.
“He told me my chances were zero,” she says, recalling the conversation between her and the proverbial someone—in this case, a family friend who had served on the board of directors for a United States medical school. It didn’t matter that her grades were great, Jarvis was told: she didn’t have any work experience in medicine, save for when she was a teenager working for her father.
“An admissions committee would look at your file, close it, and move on,” this person told her. “You’d spend the next few years applying, and in the meantime, you’d need to get a job in a lab or some kind of trade showing you’re doing more of the sciences.”
A Little Advice from Her Dad
But becoming a physician had always been a dream of hers. Her father was a psychiatrist—she eventually learned that he, too, had always had big dreams of becoming a neurologist, the career route she ultimately took—and Jarvis remembers how excited her father was that she was interested in applying to medical school. She’d grown up in a family that had always been focused on matters of the brain, hence her fascination with neurology.
So she went to him for advice.
“I’d been talking to my dad, and he said ‘You know, Amy, why not apply to an international medical school?’ Some of his friends had gone to foreign medical schools, and they’d come right back to the states,” Jarvis says.
RUSM was one of the medical schools that kept popping up in her research, and—encouraged by the school’s academic outcomes and the quick response time after she submitted her application—she ultimately interviewed, enrolled, and started her basic sciences studies on the island of Dominica, where RUSM’s Foundations of Medicine campus is located. After her time in commodities in Africa—a time she refers to as “interesting”, with an emphasis on the quotation marks around the word interesting—studying medicine on a tropical island didn’t faze her.
Her studies went smoothly, but during her time in Dominica, her father passed away.
A faculty member there had Jarvis brought to his office after it happened, and encouraged her to take a leave of absence.
“He was the nicest, nicest gentleman. I got incredible support from him,” she says. “But on the leave of absence, I said no—my father wouldn’t want me to do that. He’d want me to pour myself into things to continue.”
“My father had been so excited when I went back to medical school,” she added. “So he was there with me.”
“I’m Where I Want to Be”
Jarvis went on to earn her first-choice residency in neurology at Georgetown University, Washington DC, followed up by a fellowship in vascular neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA.
“I was thrilled [to get the Emory fellowship],” she says. “There were only two open spots, and most of the time they usually draw from within. I knew they’d had a fabulous stroke program—at the time, the people there were major, major players in the stroke world.”
These days at North Shore, she’s tasked with—among many other things, including treating stroke patients—taking the hospital to the next level in terms of overall stroke care. This means developing the hospital’s continuum of stroke care to the point where it earns certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. Primary Stroke Centers treat most cases of ischemic stroke (blood vessel blockages); comprehensive centers, though, treat all types of stroke, and offer interventional treatments that Primary Centers don’t.
“I’m where I want to be,” she says. “To me, the brain is like the final frontier. There’s so much we don’t know about this organ—it encompasses everything, from neurology, to hardcore neurological aspects of disease, to psychiatry. And those two things—neurology and psychiatry—are moving much closer together as we learn more about the brain. Some of the stuff that’s going on is amazing.”
It’s All About Doing What You Love
And her expertise and knowledge are in demand. Just months ago, she sat down with a reporter from STAT, a national health-and-medicine publication produced by Boston Globe Media, to discuss concussions in NFL athletes in her capacity as a neurologist. She doesn’t evaluate NFL athletes anymore—she did that from 2013 to 2015—but the STAT writer, Robert Tedeschi, came across her name and wanted to ask her take on some recent concussion-related issues that have been popping up in the news lately. (Read the STAT piece that features Jarvis here.)
As a seasoned physician, Jarvis says that it’s important to find balance after graduating from medical school. “After you get out of residency and fellowship, you’re all about work and are used to being on call,” Jarvis says. She had to learn, very quickly, how to say no, to set boundaries. “Once I found that limit, that boundary, my comfort zone, then I was good,” she says. It’s a good thing she found that comfort zone, too: She’s got her hands full balancing a full-time medical career with a family, including a 6-year-old son at home.
But in the end? The best way to sum things up for Jarvis is something she realized when she started taking pre-med classes, way back when she made her career change to medicine.
“I loved it!” she says. “And you have to follow what you love.”
Want to hear more from Dr. Jarvis? She recently wrote a blog post about concussion that was published on the Tenet Florida Physician Services website. Check it out here.
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