Frank Clark, MD: The First Black President of The Greenville County Medical Society


Frank Clark, MD, the Psychiatric Times Diversity & Inclusion Section Editor, was recently appointed president of The Greenville County Medical Society, the first Black doctor to serve in this role.

Frank A. Clark, MD


We sat down with our Diversity & Inclusion Section Editor, Frank A. Clark, MD, to discuss his recent appointment of president of The Greenville County Medical Society—a historic moment. He is believed to be the first Black doctor to serve in this role.

PT: You were recently appointed the new president of The Greenville County Medical Society, and you are believed to be the first Black doctor to serve in this role. Congratulations! What does this appointment mean to you? What do you hope to achieve in your new position? Do you have any initial goals or big picture ideas?

Frank Clark, MD: Thank you! I am humbled and honored to serve in this role. The opportunity to inspire and advocate for the health and well-being of my communities is a blessing. As I reflect on this historic moment, I think about the trials and tribulations in my life that have prepared me for such a time as this. I think about my predecessors and mentors who have paved the way for me to soar to new altitudes. I think about the sage wisdom of my mother who has always encouraged me to never give up. I remember the sacrifices that my ancestors made so that I could have a seat at the table.

My faith, my family, and my fervor serve as my moral compass when I think about developing goals for myself professionally and personally. My goals during my presidency are the following:

1) Serve with a posture of humility and kindness.

2) Develop new strategies to increase membership as it pertains to early career physicians.

3) Incorporate the arts and humanities to help increase awareness regarding the importance of advocacy for our patients and our profession.

4) Cultivate relationships with our state legislators to help shape policy that will help improve the health of our communities.

PT: What do you think your greatest challenges will be as president?

Clark: I think my greatest challenge will be recruitment and retention of members, especially those early in their career. Many physicians are already members of their state and national organizations. They are forced to be selective of where they spend their resources—including their time and money. As president, it will be important to correspond with physicians in the community and gain a better understanding of reasons why they are not members of their county medical society. The key to increasing membership will be to build relationships with colleagues and discus why we need their voices of advocacy in organized medicine.

PT: Research has indicated disparities in health care, especially mental health care, in the Black community. How can you use this role to make a positive impact?

Clark: I would love to create opportunities for discussion and develop solutions to help dismantle mental health disparities in historically marginalized communities. One of the ways to bring awareness to these disparities is partnering with stakeholders who have shared interests. One of those stakeholders is faith communities, which have been vital to the health and wellness of the Black community.

PT: Mental health impacts all aspects of health. How might you share insights with your medical colleagues on the importance of screening for and treating mental health issues in general, and psychiatric disorders specifically? What signal do you think it sends to have a psychiatrist as the president of the society?

Clark: Depression is the leading cause of disability, and yet society continues to engage in dichotomous thinking as it pertains to mental health and physical health. This type of thinking can perpetuate social and personal stigma which are deleterious to the communities I serve. My dual role as psychiatrist and president of the Greenville Medical Society allows me to enrich preexisting platforms centered around advocacy, engagement, and education. My medical colleagues recognize the importance of utilizing an integrated approach for patient care. We must continue to have interdisciplinary dialogue about the importance of addressing the continuum of care for patients to help improve their health outcomes.

PT: You have often said by being vocal you can act as a role model for Black individuals considering a role in medicine and/or a role in medical organizations. Who have been your role models and mentors? What can other psychiatrists do to better serve as role models and mentors? What qualities, in your opinion, make a good leader?

Clark: I have an extensive list of role models and mentors in medicine. They include Drs Dionne Hart, Altha Stewart, Annelle Primm, Patrice Harris, Cheryl Wills, Fatima Cody Stanford, Christian Neal, Ranna Parekh, and Nhi-Ha Trinh. They are diverse in their background and the perspective that they bring to medicine.

The best mentors and role models are the ones who challenge you to deviate from your comfort zone. They encourage you to be your authentic self. Good and effective leaders embody the following attributes: transparency, humility, integrity, and vulnerability.

PT: You have been outspoken about your own battles with depression. What advice would you give to colleagues who may be experiencing mental health issues but are afraid to seek help due to stigma?

Clark: Do not suffer in silence and do not be afraid to be vulnerable. I am an effective psychiatrist because of my lived experiences and being engaged in my own therapy. One of mentors, Dr Cheryl Wills once said, “The best thing you can do for your patients is to take care of yourself.”

PT: What are the top issues facing Greenville clinicians? What do you see as the top challenges facing psychiatrists today?

Clark: Some of the top issues facing Greenville clinicians include scope of practice and impact of women’s rights since Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade. In terms of psychiatry, parity as it relates to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rate is a top priority. Disparities in reimbursement rates impacts patients’ access to care, and that is unacceptable. Other challenges facing psychiatrists include the following: 1) dismantling stigma related to mental health, 2) raising awareness and educating the general public about the impact of loneliness on overall health outcomes, 3) developing strategies to address the social determinants of mental health, and 4) increasing recruitment and retention of psychiatrists in medically underserved areas.

PT: You recently released two children’s books, Positively Haiku: Illustrated Affirmations in 17 Syllables and Positively Haiku: Illustrated Affirmations in 17 Syllables Part 2. Can you speak a little about your inspiration for the books? What role does creativity play in mental health?

Clark: I am excited about the recent releases of my 2 children’s books. My inspiration stems from my roles as a father, a psychiatrist, and a poet. I wanted to create books that provide children early exposure to healing modalities such positive affirmations and poetry. The colorful and diverse illustrations by Daria Ponomarenko accentuate each haiku. Nan Avant’s music that accompanies each book allows readers to immerse their souls in serenity and reflection. Creativity is a form of ministry that provides a safe space to educate and engage communities.

PT: With your new books and this new role, there are many exciting things ahead this year. What are you most looking forward to?

Clark: I am looking forward to advocating for the health and wellness of all communities, poetically, creatively, and passionately.

PT: You seem able to take on many different projects, from books, to organizing recitals of your poems with music, to clinical care, and your family. What advice would you give to colleagues who are trying to juggle patient care, hobbies, family, etc?

Clark: My biggest advice is to be mindful of your bandwidth. I have learned over the years that there is freedom and power in saying “no.” I would encourage my colleagues to prioritize the things that provide meaning and purpose. It is important to cultivate a life outside of medicine. For me that is faith, family, friends, and creativity.

PT: What are you most excited about in the field of psychiatry? Are there any new treatment modalities in which you are interested?

Clark: I am excited that our profession has been more focused on the intersectionality of the arts and humanities in medicine. We must continue to search for innovative ways to provide healing for our patients. I am also excited about the new wave of psychiatrists that are joining our profession. We need more enthusiastic and innovative individuals who strive to sow seeds of advocacy and hope for their communities. From a treatment modality perspective, I am optimistic about the impact psychedelic assisted psychotherapy will have on our patient populations.

Dr Clark is an outpatient psychiatrist at Prisma Health-Upstate and clinical associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Greenville. He served on the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force to Address Structural Racism Throughout Psychiatry, and he currently serves as the Diversity and Inclusion section editor and advisory board member for Psychiatric Times. His newest books are Positively Haiku: Illustrated Affirmations in 17 Syllables and Positively Haiku 2: Peace, Love, and Discovery in 17 Syllables.

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