TALLASSEE — Irene Bailey, M.D., is a woman who believes in the power of faith, family and medicine. Running two practices, one in Tallassee and a new extended-hour family medicine/urgent care facility that recently opened in Montgomery, can take its toll. But for Dr. Bailey and her husband, Shaikh Wahid, M.D., there’s always time in the day to enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate.
Born and raised in Bangladesh, Dr. Bailey’s dream of being a physician began when she was a young girl with a promise made to her father.
“I lost my baby brother when I was 10 years old and he was three months old. That was the first dead body I had ever seen and I was shocked. Now I’m the baby in the family. My parents were devastated,” Dr. Bailey explained. “But, that’s when my father told me, ‘Be a pediatrician and help these kids.’ It was my dream, too. I wanted to help even though I was so young.”
She went to medical school and after just one internship moved to New York with her husband and two-year-old son in 1993. While her husband looked for his residency program, she worked as a nursing school instructor. In 2001, she discovered the UAB School of Medicine Montgomery Regional Medical Campus.
“Through the Family Medicine Residency Program, I realized that I could see everybody. I knew I wouldn’t be bored. Today I see everyone from grandbabies to grandladies. We touch every part of every life, and I love it! I enjoy every day because I’m so blessed!” Dr. Bailey said.
Before long, Dr. Bailey found herself in a unique situation when she became the only full-time physician working with The Learning Tree in Tallassee. The Learning Tree is a nonprofit organization providing educational, residential and support services for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, including autism. As a statewide organization, The Learning Tree serves more than 600 children and adolescents in 30 Alabama counties, but in Tallassee, the residential school also services Jacksonville and Mobile for about 100 children.
“Treatment can pose a challenge,” Dr. Bailey said. “Sometimes I visit them there at The Learning Tree, but sometimes the children will need to come here. My other patients have always been very understanding, and we make every accommodation we can to get these patients in and seen quickly. But, sometimes I’ve had to go outside to the van to see them because there are just too many distractions here in the office.”
Dr. Bailey said that as her relationship with the administration and staff of The Learning Tree has grown over the past four years, so has the willingness of other specialty physicians to lend a hand when necessary. In fact, Dr. Bailey said, some of these patients who are not part of the residency program in Tallassee travel as long as five hours to see her.
“Autism presents special circumstances, but we all try to rise to that occasion so the children are as comfortable as we can make them,” she said. “I could have said no when this opportunity presented itself, but I’m so blessed. I’m happy that I have this opportunity with these children. If I can help them just a little bit, it’s not them – I’m the one who’s blessed.”
With her work in the Tallassee community and The Learning Tree, and the success of two medical practices, one has to wonder about that promise she made so many years ago.
“My mother and father have both been able to visit and seen me practice medicine. They were so proud! I was also blessed to have had so much support from my father-in-law, who was also a physician. Although it was a promise to my father when I was a child that I become a physician, this has been for me, too,” Dr. Bailey said.