Meet Dr. Mark Clark

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 3:00pm

The island has a new physician.
Dr. Mark Clark took the time for a phone interview recently with The Block Island Times to share some of his thoughts as he prepares to take up the post of island physician. Clark is scheduled to begin July 1.
In accepting the position at Block Island Health Services (BIHS), Clark says, not only is he looking forward to new medical challenges, but he is fulfilling a dream of practicing on island, held from the time he was a student at Brown University Alpert Medical School in the early 1990s.
While a number of his fellow students took advantage of the summer rotations offered by BIHS, Clark was unable to do so. Subsequently, he became curious about the island and soon began vacationing here with friends and family. As has happened for many before him, he fell in love with the island and has returned every year since.
Upon graduation from Brown and completion of his own residencies, Clark said he asked Nancy Greenaway, then the Executive Director of the Medical Center, about a position. As it turned out, the timing was not right for him or BIHS and nothing came of his inquiry. One of six siblings, Clark did all his residency training in New York and decided to remain within his home state where most of his family resided.
However, he has kept the dream of practicing on-island alive. “It’s always been on my mind; the island’s been a recurring draw,” he says. While here last summer, Clark learned of the opening at BIHS and approached Executive Director Barbara Baldwin about it. She told him how to go about applying, which he did. The Medical Center search team first met with Clark in the fall of 2014.
From philosophy to medicine
Though he majored in philosophy at Fordham University, from which he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in 1987, Clark notes there is a very real connection between that discipline and medicine. “Philosophy,” he says, “is preoccupied with what really matters, with what’s important in our human lives, our view of the world and to be of service, to be involved.”
However, he adds that he found the field somewhat too “heady and intellectual” for him, while medicine allowed him to pursue the same ends “with the concrete applications of ideas [toward] being of service in the real world.”
Clark attributes much of his decision for going into medicine to having watched his mother battle the increasingly debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis over many years. He explains, “You’d go to some doctors who’d leave her with hope and others who had [nothing] to offer.” He found her treatment inconsistent and disheartening. Eventually, his mother succumbed to the disease.
Subsequently, Clark says, “I looked for what I could do to make a difference.”
Currently, Clark is Director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, originally the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, a post he’s held since 2010. Through the three-year residency program, Clark oversees a total of 42 residents, with 14 in each class.
During that time, he has also held faculty appointments, as Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons from 1996 to 2013 and as Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai since January, 2014. Clark says he teaches residents and medical students.
Simultaneously, Clark is Attending Physician at the Department of Emergency Medicine, Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, where he sees patients in the emergency room. It’s a post he’s held since 1996. About all the work he is leaving, he says, “I love what I do now, and what I’ve done here; still, I’m looking forward to loving what I’ll do there [on island].”
Clark believes that his work in emergency medicine has helped him hone a skill set preparing him for many kinds of medical challenges. He points out, “For over twenty years I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity to be one of the providers of a [small] community. It is an opportunity to know people and their families over the long term. That’s an exciting opportunity.”
It’s the idea of “over the long term. …” that seems important to him, as in his current work he scarcely has time to become acquainted with his patients. He is enthusiastic about to getting to know islanders and becoming part of the local community.
The notion of making a difference continues to invest Clark’s thinking as he says, “There is a real opportunity in emergency [medicine] to use skills for underserved populations. Medicine is a wonderful way to serve, and one of the benefits of training in emergency medicine is that the skills are applicable in almost any setting.”
In addition to his institutional commitments, Clark has put his ideas into global practice several times — once serving as a physician in residence for a month in a hospital in Kenya in 2007 and then in Haiti (in 2012 and 2013) in efforts to deliver post-earthquake medical relief. In fact, the desire to “give back something” is so pressing in him, Clark has made a long-term commitment to go someplace in the world in need of medical services for at least one week each year.
Making the change
In moving from practicing in a big city hospital system with its state-of-the-art technology, diagnostic tools and the ability to make specialist referrals quickly, to a rural practice where such access is more limited, Clark says he is aware of the differences. “It really brings you back to the physical exam and the consult — and learning the patient’s history,” he says. He believes there is a great deal to be done with these. He adds, “The first thing is to make the most of what you have.”
He explains, “I think it’s an interesting challenge in medicine, because it makes you think of what the real priorities are. You work with what you have, and hopefully you’ve developed some diagnostic skills over the years, so that you’ll be able to know when someone needs more testing. Even in a big city, the skill is in knowing what is really needed.”
Asked whether or not he has thoughts about expanding services at the island medical center, Clark says, “It’s hard to make an informed comment now. Anything we can do to coordinate care and expand services — for medical illnesses, for mental illness and for substance abuse — are all worth exploring.” However, he adds, that his intention is to come in “listening to those who know more, to understand where people are coming from.”
Clark sees his role during his first year as “listening to the people who have been running things and [to those] involved in health care and learn from them.” He adds that he is coming to the island with what he hopes is “a fresh perspective, an open slate. I want to come to do what I do [practice medicine] and offer my best.”
As to his dream of living and working on the island finally coming true, Clark is clearly elated. He says, “There is always something about the island that speaks to me—something about absorbing the light of the water all around, the ocean and the sky.” He adds that it is something “hard to put into words: a dimension, an attraction, a beauty [leading] to reflection.”
Both Clark and his partner, Michael Chapman, a graphic designer and yoga instructor, are looking forward to moving to the island in July of this year. They will be accompanied by their their three dogs: Hudson and Luca (both Labs) and Eli, (a Golden).