Trauma surgeon works toward improving community
Marco Gutierrez Mar 05, 2020
Clark J. Simons, MD, associate professor of clinical surgery with Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Surgery, has committed his career not just to medicine, but to helping his local community.
Simons works with organizations such as Prescription for Hope and Indy HeartBeat, which focuses on at-risk youth and violence prevention in the community. He helps fund scholarships through Advocates for Youth Education, has been awarded the Dr. Joseph T. Taylor Excellence in Diversity Award from IUPUI. He has continued to support and mentored the Indiana University School of Medicine Student National Medical Association (SNMA). SNMA is a national minority medical student organization. He has helped build a strong pool of underrepresented youth preparing for careers in the field of medicine with his discussions at high schools and aspiring medical students in the Masters in Medical Science program, as well as leading the Rawls Scholars Medicine Initiative at Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Health.
With such a strong commitment to helping support underrepresented minorities, we sat down with Simons to discuss why he gives so much back to the community and his hopes for the future.
What is it that drives you to give back to the community?
I’m part of the community and I think that it is very important for me to help others. As a second-generation physician, I realize that I was one of the lucky ones. There are large number of high school and college students which do not have the resources I had growing up. So I try to give them motivation and inspire them to reach their goals.
When you speak with young medical students or high school students, what do they normally ask you about?
When I talk to these students I tell them my story and struggles. I was not focused growing up and. I talk to them of my negative experiences, my struggles and how I turned it around to get into medical school. For medical students, we talk about how to succeed in medical school. A common question that comes up with medical students is how to handle dealing with someone from a different background. I discuss with them things I have seen and learned over the years and help them navigate situations when there are biases.
What is something you notice that underrepresented medical students may go through or be seeing as bias?
First of all, there are biases that are out there, but we are more common than we think. Many times, however there are more misunderstanding or incorrect perceptions. For instance, I tell them of a previous resident who struggled with how others perceived her. It was thought she had an issue of not listening and had an attitude problem. I had a better understanding of her because I knew where she was from and her actions were common from her culture. She was misunderstood. I had many discussions with her to navigate the difficult times and when she graduated, she was one of the stronger residents that year. Other issues I talk to students about is understanding where they are, what you’re capable of doing, but also to challenge them to get out of their comfort zone so that they’re more engaged, more involved while doing rounds and discussions. I went through all these issues when I was in medical school, not feeling comfortable expressing myself while dealing with people who were different from me.
In the United States, people of color can face disparities due to bias in health care. Do you think IU School of Medicine is doing a good job bringing awareness to this?
I definitely try to make sure that we’re respectful to the patients. The residents here are very good in terms of recognizing a patient who has needs. But sometimes there are some biases that come up. My responsibility as a surgical educator in the department surgery, is making sure that every patient is getting optimum care despite biases. We teach students and residents how to take care of patients, how to take care of different patients, also to face their biases and help them in terms of how to take better care of patients in the future.
When you mentor a medical student or resident, what do you wish to instill in them?
When I mentor students or residents, whether they’re underrepresented or not, I instill in them the desire to be invested in the patient. For underrepresented students or residents, I want them to take on the ownership of giving back. I stress to them that they need to find their purpose or their motivation. Hopefully, it’ll be something that gives back to the community. If they don’t, that is their choice. But I try to show them at least that there are some ways that you can be very much involved with the community and still have a very successful rewarding career.