A doctor's journey from radiation technologist to cardiologist


A doctor's journey from radiation technologist to cardiologist

Thursday, February 27, 2020

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AFTER almost every course of study he pursued in Jamaica or overseas, Dr Vincent Riley returned to his first love — St Ann, the parish of his birth.

Dr Riley, who recently demitted office as head of the Department of Medicine and Cardiology, consultant internist and consultant cardiologist at St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital, says his path to a career in medicine was determined from as early as high school, fuelled largely by his admiration of Dr Francis Barnett (now deceased).

In an interview with JIS News, he explains that it was Dr Barnett's dedication to the people of Claremont, St Ann, and the surrounding communities that first inspired him to a life of service in the medical field.

He points out that he is from a poor farming community and that Dr Barnett would diligently perform his school medicals without charging his parents, as he knew they could not afford the service.

Dr Riley says he admired Dr Barnett's dedication to the community and the care he provided for the sick and vulnerable.

He says his career path was not a straightforward one, and that his entry in the field of medicine was not typical.

“I began my medical career as a diagnostic radiation technologist, and this was the platform that I used as a launching pad into medicine,” he explains.

“I studied at the School of Medical Radiation Technology at the University Hospital of the West Indies, and upon graduating from the three-year programme in 1990 I returned to St Ann and worked in a private entity,” he tells JIS News.

He soon discovered at the time that St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital had no emergency X-ray services and was drafted shortly thereafter, by the then chief executive officer, to lend support to the health facility on an on-call basis.

Dr Riley recalls that such were the nature of the emergencies that there were times he would be picked up at church on a Sunday and transported with blaring sirens to the hospital to attend to a patient in the Accident and Emergency department.

He points out that the hospital serves the main highway belt through the north coast, which is a hotbed for motor vehicle accidents that result in the need for X-ray services on a regular basis.

Dr Riley says his appreciation of this reality led him to operate from his regular job during the week and be on call for St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital at nights and on weekends, based on the former CEO's request. His dream did not end there, and in 1994 he decided that although he liked radiography he could make a greater contribution, and there began his foray into the field of medicine.

“At that time the hospital had many doctors that were expatriates, and I was a local boy. I thought I could give much more as a physician, hence my trek back to Kingston to study medicine at The University of the West Indies (UWI),” he tells JIS News.

“I grew to love this hospital,” he says, while recalling the guidance and astute leadership of then Senior Medical Officer Dr Buddy Wilson (now deceased) during his internship, and how he was able to serve him in a most honourable way in his last days.

“I was fortunate, as a physician, to have been able to treat him towards the end of his life,” Dr Riley says.

His quest for knowledge continued and he began to explore new pathways. He considered geriatric and internal medicine but rather than make a difficult choice, he applied himself and did both.

“Initially, I was interested in geriatric medicine and did some work under the tutelage of Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer at the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre. I went to England, subsequently, where I did an elective through Help the Aged (a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom) at King's College Hospital, and Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in the Department of Geriatric Medicine,” he says.

In 2004, Dr Riley returned to The UWI from private practice to pursue postgraduate training in internal medicine. Upon completion, he returned to St Ann's Bay to offer his services.

In addition to St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital, he served at Annotto Bay and Port Maria hospitals in St Mary, and Port Antonio Hospital in Portland.

“I returned to St Ann's Bay in 2009 and worked for a year before going overseas to work in Bermuda as a consultant physician and hospitalist,” Dr Riley says.

After two years, he headed to Canada where he did studies in non-invasive adult cardiology.

“This time, I used the opportunity to travel overseas to garner wider knowledge and to improve my skills,” he says.

While in Canada, he did a fellowship in cardiac stress imaging, nuclear cardiology, as well as cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiac stress imaging, he explains, is an assessment of patients who have symptoms suggestive of coronary artery disease which features blocked vessels to the heart, “and I was trained in using nuclear cardiology, which is radiation”.

Dr Riley was also trained to use echocardiography, which uses ultrasounds to study the heart while the patient is exercising on a treadmill, as well as cardiac rehabilitation, which is using physiology and lifestyle modification exercise in improving outcomes of cardiac diseases.

“I returned to Jamaica with those skills and rejoined the staff of St Ann's Bay Hospital as head of the Department of Medicine and Cardiovascular Medicine,” he notes.

“We saw a decrease in morbidity in our patients,” he says, adding that the services offered to patients grew exponentially.

Dr Riley gives back in other ways and currently serves as an associate lecturer at The UWI, as he seeks to help mould young minds.

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