Medical school was always in the long-range plan for Dr. Jay Tomeo, but when he graduated in 1978 from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, with a degree in science, he took a detour South. Instead of heading straight for medical school, he was recruited by nuns in Mexico to teach science at a girls boarding school. Thinking this offer might be a interesting departure from his California upbringing, he accepted the challenge and embarked on a journey that would become a culturally enriching and treasured experience.
Located approximately one hour southeast of Mexico City in Cuerna Vaca, the school for sixth- to twelfth-grade girls was staffed primarily by the nuns and was housed in an imposing structure that had served as a fort during the revolution. Although Jay learned to speak quite a bit of Spanish during his year and a half there, he was allowed to teach in English, as most of his students were bilingual or multilingual. Some were even fluent enough and had a broad enough cultural background to serve as diplomatic translators.
Young Jay lived off campus with a Mexican family who had a large home. Every night at dinner, there were different faces around the table. The house was close to a language school attended by British diplomats, scientists from Sweden, and others, he recalls. There was a medical school nearby as well, so medical students also frequented the home. This diversity added an international flair to his experience as a teacher in Mexico.
Jay grew up in Los Angeles with his parents, Maurice and Betty, two younger brothers, Michael and Todd, and a sister, Gail. During what he describes as a happy childhood, Jay says he was a bit of a bookworm and a loner but was also athletic and competitive. He always enjoyed and was involved in sports: football in high school, and later, handball and racquetball.
After college and his stint as a teacher, Jay enrolled in a graduate program in genetics at California State University at Northridge, until he was accepted in 1980 to Loyola University Medical School in Chicago. This school was a natural fit for Jay since he had graduated from Loyola in California and his mother was originally from Chicago. I had visited there as a child, and it was nice to have some family nearby, he says.
As a new medical student, Jay had a keen interest in primary care, even though it was at a time when there was a greater push toward other medical specialties. This was particularly true at Loyola, which had a prominent heart program. Many students were urged to pursue other specialties, he says.
Despite the trend, Jay stayed with his early area of interest. Following graduation in 1985, he entered a family practice residency at McNeill Hospital in Berwyn, a suburb of Chicago. The philosophy at McNeill was that there was great value in being an all-round doctor, he explains. While that still holds true, he has seen family practice evolve to include a gatekeeper function, wherein patients consult first with their family physician, who provides referrals to other specialists when needed. Our place as family physicians is still evolving, he says, especially with respect to more coordinated care, which he believes is being enhanced by the trend toward computerized medical charts and hospital records.
After completing his residency in 1988, Dr. Tomeo moonlighted at several urgent care centers in and around Chicago while also attending a geriatric fellowship at LaGrange Hospital. With geriatric fellowships just beginning to emerge as a medical specialty, Dr. Tomeo followed his family practice director to the new program at LaGrange Hospital. Dr. Tomeo participated in the fellowship for a year and a half until he left for a group practice in Florida. Dr. Tomeo explains: Most fellowships turn out teachers, and I wanted to enter private practice.
During that time, Dr. Tomeo married. Because he and his new wife, a nurse, wanted to live near the beach, they explored employment opportunities in Florida. They settled on a small hospital near Cape Coral, located two hours south of Tampa along the Gulf coast. Jay was happy during his three years in this community, in part because of its unique characteristics. Cape Coral is a canal community that was created out of swampland. At the time Dr. Tomeo lived there, it was populated predominantly by elderly residents and fluctuated in size seasonally because of its popularity as a winter retreat. All of the doctors were from up North, 70 percent of the residents were on Medicare, and the population almost doubled in winter, he says. It was an interesting place to live and work.
Dr. Tomeos next move was in 1993 to Augusta, where he went into private practice affiliated with Doctors Hospital. He enjoyed the next five years in private practice but found there are considerable drawbacks to working solo. I enjoyed private practice but there were too many administrative headaches, he says. I started to recognize the benefits of being in a group practice, and so he began looking.
At the same time, the Center for Primary Care was growing and planning to establish a presence at Doctors Hospital. Dr. Paul Fischer approached Dr. Tomeo in 1998 about joining his growing practice group. He also recruited Drs. Phillip and Denise Kennedy, fresh out of the Medical College of Georgia. And thus, the third office of CPC was established at its present location at the medical office complex adjacent to the hospital. Everything worked out perfectly, he says. Since joining the staff of the Center for Primary Care, Dr. Tomeo has grown his practice and expanded his role as a leader in the medical community. He was recently elected chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at Doctors Hospital.
As for his personal pursuits, Dr. Tomeo is a rocket fan. His interest in rockets began with building models, but the hobby has evolved to include building and launching functioning rockets. Most recently, he was able to hobnob with others who share his interest at the National Rocket Shoot in Orangeburg, SC, held over the July 4th weekend.
Computers are perhaps Dr. Tomeos biggest interest away from work. He likes to build them, play with local area networks, and find ways to improve voice dictation and make programs run better and faster. As such, he has become CPCs computer guru. Dr. Tomeos computer know-how is one of the contributions he feels he makes to CPC. When it comes to technical matters, he says, I have good knowledge.
Dr. Tomeo is proud of what he has accomplished, most notably following his dreams and having done so on his own. The road so far has taken him in many directions and given him enriching experiences that complement his work at CPC. His current goals include being the best physician he can be. I want to be a good doctor and to do good work, he says, and CPC is all the better for his devotion to learning, growing, and serving others.