There is no sign on the Grand Street office indicating that it’s a clinic that is especially geared toward LGBT patients. Those who need to know about it find out quick enough via word of mouth.
“Our doors are open and people know we’re here,” said Dr. Saquiba Syed, the female member of the brother and sister team who operate Alpine Medical Group in Jersey City. “People know we’re here, and they know we’re not judgmental.”
Dr. Amer Syed said LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) issues are often not addressed in conventional medical centers, and most doctors may not have the particular expertise needed.
Amer received some of his specialized training while interning at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark.
He learned that the focus has to be on the particular patient, whether dealing with transgender issues or HIV.
St. Michael’s was an education on a number of levels, he said, partly because it was very much like a combat MASH unit. The doctors were confronted with some of the toughest medical cases, and often had to rely on their training to understand the nature of what they were dealing with. During his time there, he learned about issues surrounding HIV, whether sexually transmitted or as a result of intravenous drug use.
He learned that taking a good history of the patient and focusing on preparation often made the difference in helping people.
“You learn to listen to the patient,” he said.
Saquiba said there is still an unjustified stigma associated with LGBT.
“Our doors are open and people know we’re here.” – Dr. Saquiba Syed
Amer said he and his sister are constantly reading the latest literature, seeking the best information available to allow them to care for the LGBT community.
Roots in Jersey City
Saquiba and Amer are deeply involved in Jersey City and Hudson County. Both attended local schools. Saquiba likes the fact that she was she was born in Margaret Hague Hospital. This is a distinction that marks her as someone from Jersey City, even though her family’s roots go back to Pakistan and India.
She attended public schools in Jersey City. At one time, her father served the city and county in a number of roles, including in economic development, tourism and the Jersey City Board of Education.
Saquiba was an advanced placement student at St. Dominic’s Academy, where she graduated as valedictorian. She went to medical school at King Edward Medical University, graduating in 1996. She had her residency at Seton Hall School Of Graduate Medical Education, which she completed in 2002.
Amer graduated from St. Peter’s Prep. He also received his medical degree from King Edward Medical College and completed his residency at St. Michael’s Medical Center at Seton Hall University. He serves as chief medical officer for the Township of North Bergen and is currently program director Internal Medicine at Jersey City Medical Center, among other roles.
A visit to the third world gave them perspective
When still undergraduates, both doctors visited Pakistan, part of a trip their father was undertaking sponsored by the United Nations.
“My dad was sent there as a diplomat,” Saquiba said. “It was at a time when tensions were high between India and Pakistan.”
Their father, Imtiaz Syed, had a number of significant roles before getting involved with Jersey City and Hudson County governments. Born in Pakistan, their father made his way to Jersey City via England. About the time his two kids were slated to attend medical school, he went back under a United Nations initiative to work with India and Pakistan to set up a bus service between the two countries. This allowed family members in both countries to reconnect after decades of separation.
For both of his kids, this was an eye-opening experience.
This was the first time either of the brother and sister had been to what is considered a third-world country.
“We went to medical school there, but we always planned to come back to Jersey City,” Saquiba said.
Growing up in America, she said, they had certain expectations about people and medicine that were not the same overseas.
“We didn’t expect that, how different it was there than it is here,” Saquiba said, “how government works was different, and the relationship between citizens and government.”
“We didn’t know about the rest of the world,” Amer said.
Many of the resources that doctors take for granted in the United States weren’t available there. Even examinations were different, requiring both future doctors to learn how to communicate with patients and look at symptoms rather than rely on technology and tests.
This was a lesson reinforced more than a decade later when both doctors went to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
“We had no resources,” Amer said. “We had no CAT scan and other equipment and had to learn to make decisions based on our experience.”
While Pakistan and Haiti seem extreme, many of the same conditions exist in poorer hospitals like St. Michaels, and the bedside skills they learned in those places, they use every day in their medical practices.
More importantly these experiences taught the two doctors about needs back home, and the social issues that often block people from getting the medical care they need.
“One of the things we learned is respect for our patients,” Amer said. “The first complaint we always heard was that doctors don’t listen to their patients. I learned that it is important to remember a patient’s name when I make my rounds.”
This positive relationship has a way of instilling confidence between patient and doctor.
“We also learned that it is important to give back to the community,” Saquibia said.
Two are better than one
The brother and sister did not team up at first.
Saquiba started at Christ Hospital in 2006 and opened her practice on Central Avenue in 2008. In April 2010, they decided to merge practices, providing a concentration of care.
They currently have three offices, one near the foot of the Heights on Summit Avenue, another near Journal Square and a third, on Grand Street downtown.
“We do believe the medical profession is a noble profession,” she said.
This means they do a lot of charity work, and often take in patients who struggle to pay.
“But we’ve had to redefine what rich is so that we can sleep at night,” Amer said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.