An important goal for Dr. Clark—who regularly talks to students of color, not just on Doctors Back to School Day—is to provide students with what he refers to as “racial concordance”: the comfort of seeing someone who looks like them in a profession to which they may aspire. From the students’ perspective, “it is important to meet people you can emulate and think, ‘I am able to do what they’re doing,’” Dr. Clark said.
The most powerful way to get through to students is by “talking about your journey,” said Dr. Clark. “It’s about giving your testimony, being honest and transparent. When children hear your stories, they have a curiosity. We want to let them know that if we did it, they can do it, too.”
Dr. Clark’s story started on Chicago’s far South Side, where he grew up with his public school teacher mother and preacher father, and extended to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an internship and residencies at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Along the way, he benefited from the examples of a number of African-American mentors who took him under their wings.
“It was helpful to have people who looked like me,” he said.
In his school visits, Dr. Clark also emphasizes a message of resilience. He shares with students his profound disappointment in failing both his first year of medical school and Step 1 of his medical school boards. “It was a humbling experience, but I am a better human being and physician because of it,” he said. “It is easy to become discouraged, but you should not lose hope. Remember to focus your eyes on the end goal.”
A six-year veteran of the Doctors Back to School Program, Dr. Clark said it is more important than ever before, given the falling numbers of black men pursuing medicine as a career.
By talking to students as young as elementary-school age, Dr. Clark seeks to change the narrative about black men in this country. “When you see a black man in the news, it is usually not for something good,” he said.
Investments of time, caring and mentorship can make the difference, Dr. Clark said. “That’s how you get more black males in medicine,” he said.
Learn how to participate in Doctors Back to School Day. While it is officially marked on May 3 this year, physicians can go “back to school” any day of the year. Download this toolkit for step-by-step guidance. If you do participate this year, you can let your friends and colleagues know about it by using the #DrsBacktoSchool Day tag on social media.