Top Jamaican medic featured in New York newsletter
Focus on gynaecologist Dr Millicent Comrie during Black History MonthSunday, February 28, 2021
Although you have seen her and worked with her very often, there are a few things you may not know. After all, Millicent A Comrie MD, MPH, FACOG, OD walks in softly and quietly, and she is an unassuming member of Maimonides Medical Center Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
She is busy with others, the care of others, and seldom desires attention for herself. She never asks or calls for attention. But, don't be fooled by her profound humility, as this woman is a giant. “To know her is to love, respect, and admire her. Period,” stated Dr Richard Slatkin, MD, medical director of Bloodless Medicine and Surgery at Maimonides Medical Center.
You may be aware that Dr Comrie's patients come from the United States, the Caribbean and even as far away as Europe and West Africa. Did you know she also has a Wikipedia page? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millicent_A._Comrie) You may know that Dr Slatkin and Dr Comrie are close colleagues. Did you know they became colleagues, then friends, during residency?
Dr Comrie's mother, Myrtle Ferguson, affectionately called “Ma Fergs”, was the first person to congratulate him for passing his boards with a telegram from Jamaica, in the 1970s. After all, Dr Slatkin became Ma Fergs' son along the way.
When interviewing Dr Comrie, she placed great emphasis on education as this is what she clearly wanted to resonate with the MOG News audience during Black History Month. “Education, education, education”, coincidentally, is oftentimes repeated over and over again by Dr Slatkin. It is because these words are more accurately attributable to Ma Fergs. Like Dr Comrie, Ma Fergs has left an indisputable and indelible mark during her lifetime.
“To know her, is to know Mrs Myrtle Ferguson. Millie is Myrtle…” says Dr Slatkin.
During the interview, Dr Comrie spoke mostly about her mother. She doesn't like to talk about herself, remember?! Ma Fergs was diligent in influencing her children on how to go about formulating their life plans and goals. She was a civil servant in the Ministry of Housing and later took charge of her family's business. She raised five children, a few adoptive, and several foster children who have excelled as trailblazers across the world. Ma Ferguson's five children include a daughter, Lorice, who was the valedictorian in Italian Canon Law after defending her dissertation in Italian, despite it not being her first language. She became the first foreign woman to earn tenure at the University of Rome. Another daughter, Herma, holds a BSc in Chemistry and MSc in Science Education who went on to open one of Jamaica's most famous bakeries.
Another daughter, Pauline, holds a BSc in Zoology — teacher by profession who has now created a successful business in the baking industry.
Finally, her only son, Fenton, is a dental surgeon and politician who served in the Jamaican Parliament for over 27 years during which he was also the minister of health in Jamaica. And, then, it's just Dr Comrie.
Dr Comrie is a graduate of universities: Howard, State University of New York (SUNY), and Columbia, who became the first Jamaican-born female to be a resident physician at Downstate Hospital. She holds BSc in Chemistry from Howard University, an MD from SUNY — Downstate and an MPH in maternal and child health population and family planning from Columbia University School of Public Health. It is clear that her achievements are in lockstep with the accomplishments of her siblings.
In addition, she did her residency at LICH in obstetrics & gynaecology and was the hospital's chief of Adolescent Gynaecology from 1983 to 1989. She was also the clinical assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at SUNY — Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Some of her accomplishments include being named amongst the “Top 10 Caribbean born females in the USA” by News Americas, named as one of the top black doctors in New York and New Jersey and also named as one of the top 100 doctors by New York Magazine for three years in a row.
Dr Comrie has been caring for patients for over 40 years and has dedicated her practice to education, diagnosis and the treatment of complex health conditions facing women today. During this time, she has been the recipient of several awards and appointments including the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) conferred by the Government of Jamaica in 2016, for her work in health and community development. And, the impressive Leader in Medicine Award from the Society of Foreign Consuls, an international organisation representing the world's largest consular corps in New York. Dr Comrie has performed several medical missions in Jamaica over the past 20 years.
She is a household name in the tri-state area and does a weekly community voluntary radio talk show on 93.5 AM to keep the community informed on health matters. She makes appearances on local television stations, churches, service clubs and guest speaker at functions relating to health issues involving women. “All I did, really, was hard work, love and respect [the patients] and try to be the best listener…Understand their position…Hear what bothers them, find a solution, and do what I could.”
Although she has earned a long list of awards, left to her alone she would only spend time telling us about her rewards. Dr Comrie would tell you that clinical practice, her patients, and her colleagues, join her family as the ones that matter most to her. Continuing to care for women, their bodies and their souls, she admits, comes from excelling in psychiatry during medical school.
She considered becoming a psychiatrist, but she enjoyed surgery and taking care of women. Dr Comrie also shared the story of a patient who attended a conference in London for women with fibroids. None of the surgeons she had seen would spare her uterus. The presenter said: “There is just one surgeon we know who would consider doing that…a doctor in Brooklyn named Millicent Comrie.”
There is also the story of a woman calling late one Monday night, saying: “I have a hysterectomy scheduled on Thursday because I have fibroids…but I want children.” Dr Comrie asked her to cancel her surgery, come in, and see her. This patient was able to go on to have three children, one of whom is currently her patient.
Dr Comrie changed the trajectory of her life and continues to take care of her family. She is loved and appreciated by her patients because of the unique care she gives to them daily. She has become a pioneer in the advanced care and surgical treatment of fibroids and has been instrumental in developing techniques that allow women to retain their uterus and oftentimes preserving their fertility.
Dr Comrie's own life has been challenged many times. Each time, she calls on the courage and strength to continue because of her faith and the role modeling of her mother. When a surgeon evaluated her poorly, due to her 'inability to speak English', she walked in to plead her case, in the“Queen's English”and Jamaican accent, and was reassigned to another preceptor — can you see how that worked out?
When she was presenting a paper and her mother decided to join the audience, despite parental inclusion not being a precedent, Dr Comrie won her case. And, of course, Mrs Ferguson got the kind of introduction a mother earns when her daughter achieves an accolade, along with being present to delight in the product of her daughter's diligence.
Dr Comrie stated that her greatest challenge was the loss of her daughter Tamika as it had a profound impact on her entire existence. “Meeka” was a devoted social worker, rising up the ranks of Administration for Children's Services. Meeka spent her time working with mothers and children, just like her mother. After September 11, Meeka joined the Department of Homeland Security as a special agent. Her works was so well-respected that over 150 special agents attended her funeral to pay their respects.
Despite the loss of Meeka, Dr Comrie returned to work, took care of other peoples' daughters, inspiring her colleagues to be, and do better. Dr Comrie credits her husband Frederick Comrie or “Teddy” for the portion of success not attributed to her mother. Teddy, she says, is supportive.
Translated from Dr Comrie's understated use of language, she must mean that Teddy is perfectly matched to her greatness. 'Like mother, like daughter.' And, then, there is the light that remains: Sacha Comrie Jackson-Chin. Sacha is an accomplished attorney with her own practice, while raising two children. Sacha has also joined 'the family business' by creating an organisation that helps to support adolescents with funds for their education…Can you hear the voice of Myrtle Ferguson saying “education, education, education”?
Dr Comrie has been a significant part of the lives for countless mothers, their daughters, and their granddaughters, ensuring all of them would have an opportunity to live out their lives with health. She has given her time, her life and her attention, along with her cellphone number to all her patients — every day. This is all because her greatest satisfaction, besides being Myrtle's daughter, and living up to the highest standards that the distinction entails, is being present for women in a way that matters to them. Being present with “…an understated elegance, in every way, in everything, from the simplest to the most sublime…” as her 'brother', friend and colleague, Dr Slatkin said. It is to know her, a little better and a little more, even if she is busy listening to you so she can hear you and help you. That is Dr Millicent A Comrie.
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