Caribbean Life: Jamaican American student defies odds, becomes medical doctor

Jamaican-American Dr. Akya Myrie.
AMSNY/Akya Myrie

Akya Myrie grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn after her mother migrated to the United States in the 1980s from Jamaica and witnessed her family’s search for better medical services for her older brother, who is described as “profoundly mentally disabled.”

While growing up in Brooklyn, Myrie, 26, learned that, though medical care was better in the US, her, single parent, mother and brother still struggled to access quality medicine and culturally-competent care.

This inequity, while leading Myrie to pursue a career in medicine, instilled in her a drive to serve vulnerable communities and individuals who are chronically underserved.

Myrie graduated, in 2012, from Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

She then attended college at Stony Brook University, graduating in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in health science.

Afterwards, Myrie completed a state-funded Diversity in Medicine program at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Buffalo, run by the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY).

Myrie said the program — which guarantees medical school admission on graduation and requires recipients to return to New York to practice medicine in an underserved community – prepared her academically and emotionally for medical school, and to become a doctor.

After completing the post-baccalaureate program at the University of Buffalo, Myrie enrolled at the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center’s College of Medicine, where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society, the highest achievement in medical school.

In medical school, Dr. Myrie said she was very fortunate to receive AMSNY’s Diversity in Medicine scholarship four times; and that she started various community service initiatives, participated in several research projects on health disparities in transplantation, kidney disease, prostate cancer and bladder cancer, and joined a team to aid in a medical mission to Jamaica.

Next month, Dr. Myrie said she will begin her residency, for six years, in urology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

She also said she is excited to return home after completing her residency to work with an underserved community as a urologist, describing her commitment to serve as an honor, rather than a requirement.

“Growing up in Brooklyn, as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, I saw people who looked like me suffer from higher rates of asthma, diabetes and other chronic illnesses more than their white counterparts,” Dr. Myrie told Caribbean Life in an interview.

“New Yorkers have always had a gap in health and healthcare, based on race and ethnicity; and, in the past year, I’ve seen COVID-19 widened those gaps,” she added. “People of color, like me, have experienced the highest death rates from this pandemic. That is why I feel a sense of urgency to start helping patients.

“Once I complete my residency, I plan to return to my Brooklyn community to serve those who, I believe, count on people like me — people who look like them, sound like them, understand their culture and community,” Dr. Myrie continued. “It is the kind of care that my brother, who has profound developmental disabilities, received.

“With his care, I saw firsthand the impact and importance of diversity in medicine,” she said.

But, despite earning her bachelor of science degree at Stony Brook University and dreaming of becoming a doctor, Myrie said she faced adversity.

“As the child of an immigrant, the cost of medical school seemed like an insurmountable challenge, and I didn’t feel quite prepared to enter medical school,” she said.

However, she said the rigorous state-funded Diversity in Medicine program helped her prepare academically and emotionally for medical school.

“And receiving AMSNY’s Diversity in Medicine scholarship four years in a row helped me focus on being the best medical professional possible without the burden of medical school debt,” said Dr. Myrie, giving high praise to her family and others for her remarkable success.

“During my time studying, my family, especially my mother, was my support system,” she added. “I also believe that, without the support of the Associated Medical Schools of New York, my professors, faculty and staff at Stony Brook, the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Buffalo, and Downstate College of Medicine, I would not be where I am today.”

Dr. Myrie’s proud mother, who asked that her name not be used, told Caribbean Life on Wednesday: “Firsthand experiencing the need for quality healthcare with my autistic, mentally challenged son, I am so overjoyed and enthusiastic that my beloved, beautiful and brilliant daughter, who was tremendously inspired by her brother, is now a medical doctor.

“She now will be able to contribute immensely to medicine, especially to the underserved community,” Dr. Myrie’s mother said. “She is the physician our family needed throughout our search for adequate medical service.”