Dr. Amy Burke wants to be an inspiration to single moms and new doctors. Except for the debt part.
Burke, 44, who grew up in Chittenango, near Syracuse, opened a new family practice several weeks ago on Southwestern Boulevard in Orchard Park.
She got pregnant, with twins, during her freshman year at LeMoyne College, an experience that added both challenges and blessings to her life. She has bachelor’s degrees in biology from LeMoyne and nursing from Syracuse University, and an executive MBA from the University at Buffalo, where she also attended medical school.
“I’m a poor doctor,” she said during a recent interview. “All my worth is right there on the wall.”
How did you end up back in Western New York?
After I got out of medical school in 2005, I went back to Syracuse and did my residency in the same hospital where I used to practice as a nurse, St. Joseph’s, which is an amazing hospital. I came back to Buffalo in February 2010 to take a job and do my MBA. I was working as a hospitalist for a group here. My male partners got more money than me. It was like, ‘This was not going to happen.’
When you start out as a doctor, how much debt do you carry?
It is really expensive in this state to go to medical school. We’re talking $40,000 to $50,000 a year. There are some students who have families that can support them, but most of us come out owing at least $160,000. Mine’s $260,000, but I borrowed money to live on, so here I am in one of the lower-paying brackets of health care – that’s fine, it’s not about money, it’s about going to work and loving what you do – but I have 30 years to pay a second mortgage, so I’m going to be one of those poor doctors for a really long time.
You had a tough freshman year in college.
Here I am, pregnant at 19. Their dad and I didn’t survive (in a relationship), which is OK. I did two degrees, I did medical school and an MBA, and my girls know me more when I’ve been in school than out of school.
When I looked in my girls’ eyes, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have two more reasons to be successful.’ I want them to be successful people and so I have to be that, too.’ So I woke up at 19 and said, ‘The party’s done.’ I was so poor I couldn’t afford a TV and I needed furniture. A friend found a couch on a side of the road. I sat on that couch till I finished at LeMoyne, and I worked as a waitress at Friendly’s. I was on Medicaid. I overcame it. It’s not that I was a special person, it’s just that I had the right people help me at the right time, and the drive to do it, because I had the right people.
Brittany and Brandy are now 24 years old. They both graduated from LeMoyne and both are back at school. Brittany is at Houghton College right now. She’s getting a business management degree. She also works as my secretary in my office. She calls me Dr. Burke and pretends she’s not my daughter (mom says this with a smile any parent would recognize). She goes to classes at night, and she’s doing so well. I’m very proud of her.
Brandy is in Syracuse now. She’s been accepted at the UB exercise science program to go into the physical therapy program.
Is medical school more like “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Scrubs?”
When I was a resident, people were watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and you know ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ everybody’s doing everybody. I said, ‘If it is, I don’t know about it. I just want to go to sleep at the end of the day.’ … I’m sure there was some of that going on because some of the couples ended up getting married. It was like ‘Scrubs’ sometimes, the funny things that would happen. You remember the janitor who was really mean to everyone? That’s exactly how it was. As a medical student, you were the lowest of the low. If a janitor looked at you the wrong way, you were in trouble.
If you’re single and you want to meet a doctor, are there places in Buffalo to do that?
A lot of doctors marry within a hospital, or they marry friends, or they marry their high school sweetheart. For a male doctor, it could be a nurse, maybe even a secretary. I think women on the average might meet someone through a friend. So if you think of all that, where are you going to meet a doctor? I don’t think it’s at a bar.
What would be something that might surprise many Western New Yorkers about the medical school experience?
Many of us didn’t live in Buffalo beforehand. After I left medical school, I met someone in Syracuse who lived in Buffalo, and he said, ‘Oh, did you go here?’ or ‘Did you go there?’ And I said, ‘No. No.’
The thing is, after four years in medical school, unless you’re from Buffalo you leave as ignorant about Buffalo as when you came. I knew how to get to each hospital and the few places we’d hang out at, but even now, being here a couple of years, I’m learning there’s so much to do in Buffalo.
Burke is taking new patients who call her office, 362-3909. To learn more about her practice and views on health care reform, read the Refresh Buffalo Blog at BuffaloNews.com.