Getting to Know You — Dr. Amy MacIntyre, M.D., Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Specialist

From a young age, Amy MacIntyre knew that she wanted a career in medicine. In pursuit of this dream, she embarked on a rigorous and challenging post-secondary education.

After completing a dual major in Chemistry and English for her undergraduate degree at Kenyon college in Gambler, Ohio, Amy attended Tufts University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. She then enrolled in an internship at that same institution, opting to participate in a Triple Board program of pediatrics, child psychiatry, and adult psychiatry. Next, Amy was accepted into Brown University Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island, where she completed her adult psychiatry residency before transferring to the University of Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute Clinic for her fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry, which rounded out her medical training. Upon entering the working world as a fully accredited psychiatrist, Dr. Amy MacIntyre, M.D. took on a role with a group practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She stayed with the practice for approximately 18 months before deciding to strike out on her own.

Since 2006, Dr. MacIntyre has operated her own psychiatric practice, expanding it substantially in the 16 years since its inception. In the early years of her practice, she offered her counseling services to a local community health center, spending one day each week working with students, parents, and staff of a local school, as well as outpatients. While she enjoyed providing her psychiatric expertise to the members of her community in this way, as her practice grew, she found it became difficult to maintain such a demanding schedule and reluctantly had to withdraw from the arrangement in order to prioritize the care and comfort of her patients. In the ensuing years, Dr. MacIntyre added two nurse practitioners to her practice, a decision which has paid great dividends both in the dispensation of her medical services and in the smooth operation of her office overall.

When not working, Dr. MacIntyre spends much of her time reading. She enjoys poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Whenever possible, she also loves to travel the world. 

What do you currently do at your practice?

I see patients, I participate in supervision of the nurse practitioners, and I am the liaison between families and other providers. I also collaborate with providers within the school systems. I lead therapy cases that are focused on medication management or psychopharmacology management. I also see a roster of long-term therapy patients, as well as occasional new patients. In short, I do it all, including overseeing the administrative aspects of the practice. By taking an administrative perspective, I am able to look at the practice as a whole. I know what it feels like to get a call from a parent or a patient who is calling directly, saying, “I’m not feeling good.” Knowing what it’s like to be on the admin side, to be receiving that call, helps to inform my response. It makes me aware of how important it is to limit the number of patients I take on, so that I can be quickly and readily available for people if I’m needed.

What inspired you to open your own practice?

I always liked the idea of working in a way that put me in direct connection with people. I didn’t like the idea of being in a big hospital system; hospitals have layers of other kinds of care that don’t make sense to me. I really like clinical care, but my medical training made me aware that there were tasks I did not want to do in a hospital setting. Working in a hospital means being pulled in many different directions. You cover one unit one day, and another unit the next. Or, if you’re in outpatient practice, you cover inpatient on weekends. It seems very disjointed.

Instead, I cover for my own patients 24/7, and I don’t mind that because that feels meaningful in terms of support. I prefer the ‘care over time’ model. It fits my personality. I am self-directed, a self-starter, organized, and motivated. Opening my own practice just made sense. When I was a resident, we had different options of how we could earn credit for our outpatient experience. There were three of us who chose to do an outpatient practice, which is incredibly similar to what I do right now. We were a small group, and we chose to manage everything from the bottom up for our patients, whether it was scheduling, prescription refills, answering questions or calls, and administrative issues. We saw how everything worked. I really enjoyed that.

What defines your way of doing business with patients?

I think being respectful, being responsive, listening, being sincere, and really trying to meet my patients where they are—whatever issues they may have—defines my style of treatment. After learning what their issues are, I determine how to best help them. I have been told that people feel that I’m genuinely supportive and sincere. My patients know that if they’re facing a problem, I’ll always call them back and talk them through it. We brainstorm and problem-solve, and we figure out a way to deal with whatever happens to be bothering them.

What are the keys to being productive that you can share?

I believe that if you are doing what you love to do to make a living, it simply doesn’t feel like work. Everything flows better. Everything makes more sense when you enjoy it. I find I’m the most productive when I view a given situation from the perspective of everyone involved. When confronted with a new patient or a new issue, I ask myself a few questions. “What does this person need? Why are they coming to me with this now? How can I see the whole picture?” Everything flows from that. Another thing I’ve found is that it’s always best to call patients back when I’m not stressed out or overwhelmed—it’s just easier for me to fix the problem or deal with the issue. I’ve seen other psychiatrists get overwhelmed and consequently form a disconnect between themselves and their patients. That makes it virtually impossible to run a functioning practice. Being responsive and being on top of things is also really important. That’s why I try my best to not let my work pile up.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned through the course of your career?

If you’re respectful to people and you’re sincere with them, they will more than likely make an effort to be collaborative. I don’t usually have ‘problematic’ patients, for lack of a better word. They usually seem to know that I’m doing what I can to help them. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I keep my ego in check. I will tell them, “I don’t know the answer, but we should try to figure it out together,” or “Let me refer you to a colleague of mine,” or ”Let me reach out to somebody else, it might be beneficial to involve a different therapist.” I try to put my ego aside for the sake of the patient’s wellbeing. They are the first and foremost consideration in everything I do.

In medical school we are always taught that, as doctors, we’re supposed to know all the answers, but in reality we don’t always know them. I learned that lesson when I was an intern. I was stationed in the hematology oncology unit, which dealt with really sick kids. They were inpatient, hospitalized kids. Nobody was doing super well. I had to take a call one night, and ultimately call the attending physician at home with some critical symptoms that the patient was showing. He asked, “What did the patient sound like when you did this?” I replied, “I’m so sorry, but I need to think about that. I’ll have to call you back.” The next day, he said, “Amy, your answer was one of the most important things you did last night, you earned my trust. I knew that you were not going to simply make up an answer. You told me straight.” That made me feel immensely proud to earn the trust of a very tough attending physician.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in the mental health field?

Although mental health affects literally every aspect of life, I would tell anyone aspiring to have a career in psychiatry that the field still has a stigma associated with it. It’s just not as clear-cut as other kinds of medicine. However, there’s never a time when simply brushing a patient off is appropriate because you don’t understand their issue. In the same vein, medical doctors don’t always know what to do with a patient. It’s the same with psychiatry. But no matter how tough the patient, you have to always remember that you are an integral part of their wellbeing, and how much mental health care is needed to make them better.

What is a piece of technology that helps you in your daily routine?

My smartphone. I cannot live without my smartphone. It keeps track of everything for me. I can look up medical interactions, or consult rating scales or BMI charts. I can read articles in medical journals. I have the world of medicine at my fingertips. In medical school, we used to carry around all these books in our white coats. Now, operating in such a manner is no longer necessary thanks to smartphones.

How do you maintain a work life balance?

It’s difficult. It was considerably harder during the pandemic, though. It’s really important to take care of yourself, though. Otherwise, you can’t take care of anybody else. With that in mind, I do Pilates a couple of days per week, and I try to stay active every day. I like cooking, too, so I try to experiment with new, healthy recipes. On the mental side of things, staying connected with my family and friends is also really important. Maintaining connections with the people you love gives you the chance to take a break and process things that have happened. If you don’t do this regularly, you can lose perspective. That’s one of the primary ways I achieve work life balance.

Who has been a role model to you? And why? 

I have role models for different aspects of my life. My English and science professors were role models. We would have discussions about organic chemistry, or great novels, or works of art that they were lucky enough to see during their travels. That was really important to me. In terms of my professional life, I admire psychiatrists who have come before me. I don’t know that there is one person in particular that fits the title of ‘role model’ for me. However, there are numerous colleagues I want to engage with or have some level of connection with for the next 10 or 15 years.

What is one piece of advice you have never forgotten?

When I was an intern, my senior resident during hematology oncology rotation once told me that he couldn’t tell if I loved this rotation or if I just worked hard because I was a professional. He admired that I came in every day and gave it my all. That stuck with me. I always want to give that level of care as a doctor, yet, not give so much that there is nothing left for me as a person. I want to be present and do my best to stay open to all things that might benefit my patients. Also, it’s good to seek out new ideas so that I can provide the best care possible. I feel deeply that it’s an honor to be in this position and it’s my duty to help people. It’s something that I don’t take lightly.