Michael R. Clark is the Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Associate Professor and Director of the Adolf Meyer Chronic Pain Treatment Programs. He sits on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Pain Educators and is a course director for the PAINWeek National Conference. In 2013, Dr. Clark presented Chronic Pain Assessment, When Acute Pain Becomes Chronic, and Madwoman in the Attic: Pain and Personality Disorders.
What inspired you to become a healthcare provider?
When I was a child, I decided to become a doctor. The physicians I knew at that time were intelligent, compassionate, and respected. I wanted to help people and cure the sick. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Why did you focus on pain management?
As a psychiatrist, I was fascinated with the mind and the disorders of mental life and behavior. I loved thinking about the whole person and their world. Working with patients with chronic pain offered me the opportunity to care for patients with complex disorders and remain connected to the other disciplines of medicine that I did not want to give up as a psychiatrist.
Who were your mentors?
My first true mentor beyond my parents was Sam Guze, the chair of psychiatry at Washington University when I was a medical student. He was also the Vice Chancellor of the medical school and such an impressive leader. He inspired me to pursue psychiatry, taught me that psychiatry was truly a branch of medicine, and that psychiatrists could be leaders of great institutions.
My next mentor was Paul McHugh, the chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University who I met during my residency. To this day, he continues to teach me, challenge me to think rigorously and coherently, and demonstrate how a psychiatrist can guide society through situations that result from the medical errors of oversimplification and misplaced emphasis.
If you weren't a healthcare provider, what would you be?
I would be an elementary school teacher. I love children and their innocence, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Guiding them through a tougher and tougher world, protecting them from the intrusions of those who would corrupt them, and seeing them master the skills required for success is fantastically rewarding.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m a collaborator. I like working in teams, listening and learning from others, and then synthesizing that expertise into applied solutions for patients and healthcare systems. I try to keep an open mind, be flexible and practical. I really enjoy seeing a problem solved and others benefiting as a result.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My two sons. In addition to wanting to be a doctor, my other aspiration was to become a father. I love my boys with all my heart and soul. I see them as the future and I’m proud to call them my legacy. I cannot wait to see how their stories unfold.
What is your favorite language?
Well, I only know English and I have absolutely no proclivity for foreign languages or even accents. I’m always grateful when others help me overseas because I am truly dependent on the kindness of others for survival.
If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?
I’m never very good with these types of questions. There are so many wonderful literary and musical compositions. I would want a book that could continue to teach and guide me, whether I was alone or meeting an alien race. Therefore, I would take something I didn’t fully understand and that would demonstrate the principles that I try to live by. One of Aristotle’s books would be high on the list. The film I would pick purely for enjoyment. I would want to be able to distract myself, forget that I was alone, and laugh out loud. I would probably pick some outrageous action movie, maybe one based on a comic book character like Batman or Ironman. They would pick me up and keep me going through the low points. The piece of music would serve as the emotional anchor. Music is very moving for me. I would pick a religious piece like Amazing Grace to remind me of the grandeur of the universe, evoke a good cry, and remind me of all of those who got me to where I am at the moment.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I’ve often wondered what people would say about me after I’m gone. Paul McHugh likes to remind me that it is a short step from “Who’s Who” to “Who’s he?” I hope people will remember me as a good person who helped people and cared more about relationships than trophies.
What is your motto?
Taught to me by my mother: “Make yourself a better person, make the world a better place.”