Avia Collinder, Outlook Writer
Dr. Michele Lee says that no one who has a headache has to suffer.
Educated abroad, Dr. Michelle Lee, a board certified neurologist and pain/headache specialist, the only female of her kind in Jamaica, has come back home to set up office in an upscale Georgian locale on Kings Way in St. Andrew.
Michelle Lee, tomboy daughter to Dr. Dottie Nicholson, general practitioner in Harbour View, says she always knew that she would find a career in the medical field.
"I just always knew what I wanted to do. Even though it's a boys club out there, if you believe in yourself and have a passion for what you do, it can be done."
Michelle prepared for her current consultancy with a one year fellowship in chronic pain and headache management at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Florida, in 2003 and postgraduate training at the University of South Florida between 2004 and 2005.
"Headaches and pain are the number one reason why people go the doctor, Dr. Lee notes."
Neurology, she says, which is often poorly taught at the undergraduate level is often disliked by many doctors. But the brain, she notes, is the "last frontier" of diagnosis, and understanding how it works is often the route to solving a lot of medical problems.
A student at Campion College high school in St. Andrew, Michelle decided to go to college in Florida where her father, businessman Winston Lee lived.
In the U.S. she first did a BSc in biology at the University of Miami, Florida, between 1988-1992 and the pursued the Doctor of Medicine accreditation at the University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1996.
Her internship was done at Georgetown University Medical Centre,Washington, D.C. between 1996-1997.
At the end of medical school, she had to choose an area in which to specialise. Michelle thought of psychiatry and briefly considered child psychiatry, but it was not "a good fit" for her.
She then settled on neurology which also included aspects of psychiatrist. "Sigmund Freud," the doctor notes, "was also a neurologist!"
Michelle Lee enrolled at Emory University of Medicine, Georgia, as a first- and second-year neurology resident between 1997-1999 and then went to the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine California for third-year residency between 1999-2000.
At school, Michelle Lee was winner of the Woodson-Williams-Marshall Minority Scholarship, a full tuition scholarship awarded at the University of Miami to the Minority Junior with the highest GPA.
She also received a University of Miami Research and Academic scholarship for Minorities, a scholarship to promote research activity in minority students.
Dr. Michelle Lee was also a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honour Society Golden Key National Honour Society. She also made the Provosts' honour Roll at school and the National Dean's List.
She them came back home to Jamaica in 2000 to work at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) where she said "I was fortunate to be embraced there".
It was a time she said when she "just wanted to come back home. There is a comfort level in treating people of your own kind".
With continuing certification, Dr. Michelle Lee is now a Neuromuscular fellow and Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is currently a licensed physician and surgeon in the State of California (active) and in Jamaica.
At the University Hospital of the West Indies, she stayed until 2003 working also as part-time lecturer and consultant. Duties included lecturing to medical students and residents, consultant in charge of the neurology service and the weekly outpatient clinic.
She then went to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) as a part-time consultant with duties including outpatient clinic and ward rounds with the medical residents.
While working at the UHWI and KPH, Michelle says she made many valuable relationships, which have served her well in her private practice which started at Oxford Medical Centre in 2003 and expanded to Andrews Memorial, the Tony Thwaites Wing at the UHWI and eventually, 1 Kings Way Avenue in St. Andrew.
Noting that Jamaica has less than one dozen of the specialists in her field, she comments, "We need even more neurologists."
In Costa Rica, she notes, there is one neurologist for every 20,000 members of the population.
As a neurologist, she has settled on treating headaches and pain, an area which she really loves. Headaches, she notes, can often be successfully treated with medication. In her years of practice, she says has seen only three brain tumours, so this widespread fear by those who suffer from headaches is often unfounded.
One interesting aspect of the practice, the doctor also notes, is the treatment of stroke patients with botox injections which aids in correcting movement disorders and reducing muscle pain. Botox is also used to treat chronic pack pain and sweating in the armpits by injecting the substance into the muscle.
Where headaches are concerned, the specialist notes that there is often a genetic cause for the problem. Ongoing research is being done to isolate the gene which is responsible. But, in general, doctors are able to offer advice on foods and habits to be avoided in order to prevent the triggering of migraine headaches.
She offers hope to those who continually suffer, noting, "For people who have really bad headaches, and menstrual pain, there is medication to manage this. They do not have to suffer."
Since her return to Jamaica, Dr. Lee has been busy making a contribution to the field of neurological study and practice here. She is a founding member of the Jamaica League against Epilepsy and an affiliate of the International League against Epilepsy.
She has also given numerous lectures including: the Role of Imaging in Neurological Disease as a chief presenter at the Blue Cross of Jamaica 16th Annual Medical Symposium, attended by more than 200 physicians; and Metabolic Causes of Coma - presented to the Caribbean Association of Family Practitioners.
She has also lectured on neuropathic pain, Alzheimer's disease and her favourite - the headache.
Dr. Lee is completely fulfilled in her career.
She looks forward to having a family and meanwhile uses almost all her spare time playing tennis - a sport which she admits she is completely addicted. "I will turn up anywhere there is a court. Tennis is therapeutic."
After 13 years of study, the 36-year-old doctor is satisfied that she is doing what she really loves.