Dr. Abraham “Jim” Nagy, who was named chair of the School of Medicine’s neurology department in July, is a Las Vegas native who chose to return to his roots to pursue his medical career. The youngest child of two physicians, an oncologist and a psychiatrist, he was set to graduate from Bishop Gorman High School at age 15, but stuck around because attending Notre Dame before he was old enough to even get his driver’s license would have been “a bit awkward.”
After graduating from Columbia, he earned his medical degree from UNR, performed a residency at Yale, and completed a fellowship at The Institute of Neurology in Queen Square, London, before returning to his hometown.
I just think it’s a great opportunity to help (with) the medical needs of our valley. We need to have a better medical infrastructure and what better place to contribute to than the place I grew up. My father was the first oncologist to move to Las Vegas, so I got see that evolve — I was kind of amazed to see a program like that develop, and I’ve always wanted to do something somewhat similar.
I’m going to be teaching second-year medical students a course in mind, brain, and behavior. I’m also overseeing clinic activities, and working to develop and expand the neurology program. One of the things that I’m really quite passionate about is working with pediatric neurology to help increase the volume of pediatric neurologists in Las Vegas because we only have two. For the population that we have, it’s just unconscionable.
Why the brain?
Having a mother who’s a psychiatrist kind of piqued my curiosity. So many people do things so differently, yet we share the same basic anatomy. I thought that was fascinating. My area of specialty is headache. People who don’t suffer from migraine or other headache disorders don’t understand the disability. The World Health Organization ranks migraine in the top ten most disabling conditions that people experience. They compare a day of migraine as being equivalent to a day of quadriplegia. If you can help people who are suffering from daily migraines or other disabling headache conditions and restore them to functionality — where they’re working and interacting with family — that’s very meaningful.
Tell us about a time in your life when you’ve been daring.
Neurologists by nature really aren’t daring people. But I’d say probably one of the most challenging things I ever did took place after my residency at Yale. I decided to move to London and work abroad with my mentor. The transition to work in another country, even though they are English-speaking, was a challenging prospect. I wanted to work with the best people on the planet, so I needed to go overseas.
Also, I enjoy exploring remote locations. Last year I spent three weeks in Patagonia (the southernmost region of South America) backpacking and camping. The year before I spent more than two weeks in Iceland. This year I planned a trip to Petra in Jordan, but I broke my foot so it has to wait until next year.
With both parents being physicians — plus an older brother who became a neurosurgeon, did you feel pressure to become a doctor?
Not at all. I’ve always wanted to do this. It’s incredibly gratifying. I’m doing what I love to do!
What’s a good day at the office?
Today was a good day. I got to help a lot of people. The feedback I get knowing that I’m making an intervention in people’s lives, helping someone get back to who they are, it’s really meaningful.
Tip for success?
Not being afraid of working hard. It’s not necessarily about being the smartest person in the room; it’s about being able to accomplish tasks, and do the work.
In 10-20 years the UNLV School of Medicine will be…
I think we’re going to be “The Center” that shapes the future of health care in Nevada. I think we’re poised to do that. Our community desperately needs an anchor to set the standard for medical care. It’s one of the big reasons I joined UNLV. We’ve got a number of great neurologists in the community but we don’t have enough neurologists. Wait times are months and months. It’s horrifying. Yesterday my neighbor was telling me about his best friend’s child who is 4. He’s suffered through multiple seizures and can’t get in to see a neurologist. There is only one on their health care plan, and the wait time is six to nine months! I want to be part of the solution, and I think the UNLV School of Medicine is the perfect vehicle to get us there.