Bermuda has its first forensic physician, Amne Osseyran. St George’s born and bred, it is there that she has always wanted to set up her practice.
In March, she joined Andrew West as a GP at Adler Lodge, his offices on Water Street.
Time in Kingston, Jamaica, helped prepare her for the role; it is where she gained hands-on experience in hospitals, rural health centres and paediatric clinics.
“I knew I wanted to come home and serve,” said Dr Osseyran, the first Bermuda-born physician to practise in St George’s.
“I grew up in St George’s; my whole family went to the doctor in St George’s and I still live there now. I knew there were only two people who practised there and that opportunity could exist for me.
“I wanted to be able to give back to my country. It sounds like a cliché, but that’s it. I got a lot of scholarships, I had a lot of people looking out for me and who were proud of me ... I wanted to be able to give back.”
Getting there was not an easy road. That she studied forensic science and forensic medicine before pursuing her medical degree did not sit well with everybody.
“It’s not the traditional route,” said Dr Osseyran, who earned her degree from the University of West Indies in 2015.
“The traditional route is medical school and then a speciality. Mine was backwards, which seems to make it difficult for people to understand that I have specialised, seems to make it difficult for my qualifications to be respected.
“It has impacted my confidence at times. When the public and colleagues don’t respect the knowledge or expertise you have earned because you haven’t done it the way or in the order that they know things to be done, it is somewhat discouraging and frustrating.”
Some might say it is particularly hard for Dr Osseyran, an overachiever with a passion for science. She began volunteering in the pathology lab at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital shortly after she left the Berkeley Institute in 1999.
“That was my real introduction to being involved in healthcare and I got hands-on experience,” she said.
“I was always into science; a lot of things came naturally to me, but that’s when I decided I wanted to be involved in medicine.”
Initially supervised, before she knew it she was handling samples and doing lab work on her own.
“I was there for the introduction of ThinPrep, when Bermuda switched from conventional pap smears to a liquid pap test,” she said. “They trained me on the machine and I trained the full-time staff.”
In the UK, at the University of East London, she studied forensic science before pursuing a master’s degree in biomedical science. Following that, she did a master’s degree in forensic medicine before joining the UWI Jamaica campus to study medicine and surgery.
“I knew I wanted to do forensic medicine. I was initially interested in forensic pathology,” she said. “Forensic pathology is a great field, there is a ton of work — just not in Bermuda. I knew I wanted to come home and serve and so just doing forensic pathology wouldn’t work for me.”
In the meantime, she joined KEMH where she became involved in human papillomavirus research.
“With women, we say HPV causes cervical cancer. With men, HPV is linked with anal cancer, linked with penile cancer, linked with some throat cancer, but no definitive causal statement existed. I wanted to figure out what can we do for men and it popped in my head — let’s try urine. And it worked.
“I tested male urine samples to see if that could provide a viable screening method. Women get pap smears; they’re screened, but men are not. The strains related to cancers aren’t symptomatic STD where you’re itching [so you know you have a problem]. There’s not enough being done with men. They are vulnerable too.”
She submitted her findings to a journal. As a result, she was invited to a conference where Harald zur Hausen, the German scientist who discovered the link between HPV and cancer, was the guest speaker.
“I went up and introduced myself and invited him to Bermuda to speak — I didn’t know how he was getting there. I didn’t know how I was paying for it.”
Panic only set in once the 2008 Nobel laureate agreed to come. With the help of Clyde Wilson, now KEMH’s chief of pathology, Dr Osseyran brought him here in 2009.
“I don’t think anyone ever thought that a student from a 21-square-mile island would have personal interaction, a personal reference from and endorsement, from someone who discovered the popular virus that causes cancer,” she said.
As thrilled as she was to facilitate the opportunity, she was disappointed not to have the funding to further her own HPV research.
“And then I went on to medical school and these things were put on the back burner,” Dr Osseyran said.
“It costs a lot for research and you have to have people who believe that what you’re doing is useful.
“I was probably the youngest to have done research on that scale in Bermuda. When you’re bringing ideas, just because you’re from a tiny island and there’s familiarity — you know my aunt or granny, just because you haven’t heard of the topic yet or because it’s a newer field doesn’t mean what I’m saying isn’t valid.
“Here, we’re not trusting children or young people and the ideas they bring. I hope to change that.
“Over ten years ago, we could have been catapulted into global research opportunities, but I had to fight and beg for this particular opportunity. I couldn’t get the money. You don’t get a Nobel Prize person here every day; you don’t get to work with a Nobel laureate every day and I facilitated that.”