Clyde Fomunung_Black History Month

Channeling inspirations into drive

Medical student Clyde Fomunung discusses his hopes and dreams as they pertain to the medical field
February 19, 2020

What inspired you to become a physician?

My mother’s dedication to health care is one of the primary reasons I am inspired to pursue a career in medicine. When we traveled from Cameroon to the United States in 2002, she reinvented herself and became a nurse in order to support our family. On her health care journey, she endured the loss of her mother as well as other hardships, but she persevered in order to graduate. To this day, she continues to work tirelessly in service of her patients, and the opportunity to witness her passion fuels me to want to live a life in service of others like she does.

As a result, I live by the principle of serving others. I want to educate patients on their particular diseases as well as spend efforts preventing those health issues. Often, it is much easier to prevent than to treat. I am committed to the profession of medical service, as I believe there will be no greater honor to me than to be a part of this esteemed profession, and it is the most rewarding career path for me to make a meaningful impact in society.

Furthermore, I am inspired to become a physician because of my love of anatomy, physiology and pathology. In 2016, I spent time researching how to efficiently utilize vagus nerve stimulation to enhance neuroplasticity and improve recovery after impairment from incidents like strokes. The opportunity to witness the potential for that research to directly impact lives only reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in medicine. I want to be involved in clinical trials that test medical devices as well as pharmaceuticals. In addition to making an impact in my patients’ lives, I want to have an impact in the world of medicine by conducting research that addresses everyday problems faced in health care.

 Who are your role models?

My role models are my father, brother and uncle. My father is a hardworking man who made a lot of sacrifices for the betterment of his family, and those sacrifices are something I am forever grateful for. He wants the absolute best for each of his children and, as such, has high expectations for us all. Initially, it was his guidance that led me to pick up interest in medicine at a young age.

Then, my brother is a hospitalist, but moreso a friend and mentor to me. As someone who has been in my shoes, he has been a great resource of information and guidance. Lastly, my uncle, who I dub as my second father, is a psychiatrist and has been an inspiration to me for as long as I can remember. They are all patient, humble and supportive of my decision to pursue medicine. They are some of the many people who enable me to keep striving for success each day.

Why is it important to have a diverse representation of medical professionals?

A diverse representation of medical professionals is important because our patients are diverse. With each passing decade, the United States is becoming even more of a melting pot, and I believe that, as such, the demographics of medical professionals should be reflective of the American public. From my experiences shadowing physicians and even just as a patient visiting a clinic, there is an increased level of comfort when your health care provider looks like you, speaks the same language as you or comes from a similar culture. Additionally, I believe having greater representation can increase the quality of health care. One of the beauties of diversity is that it brings together different perspectives, which can be utilized to tackle different problems, treat patients and advance the field of medicine as we know it.

As a result, medical schools should celebrate Black History Month because, simply put, it is part of America’s history—our history. As such, it should not be forgotten but instead passed from generation to generation as a celebration. The advancements made by activists of the past have allowed us to get to where we are today. Also, as we all know, actions speak louder than words and celebrating Black History Month is one of the many ways a medical school can demonstrate its diversity. Honoring the month allows for students to come together and appreciate the richness of African American culture as well as the pioneers of the medical field like Ben Carson, MD, and Charles Drew, MD. It allows for students to see how far we have come in society and shows people that the medical school is welcoming and inclusive to everyone, regardless of race or origin.

 What barriers have you overcome, if any?

One of the more difficult times in my life came when I applied to medical school and was unsuccessful. It felt like my dream of becoming a physician had fallen apart, and I was more distraught than any other point in my life. Several people encouraged me to consider other careers, but I remained undeterred in my conviction to pursue a career in medicine. I worked two jobs in college to support myself, yet I understood that there were no excuses for failure, and every failure was simply a learning opportunity. I understood I had not done as well as I should have on the MCAT, so I decided to take on the challenge to improve my score. I continued to work full time during the day, and, at night, I devoted myself to my studies. When I took the MCAT again, I made a major leap in my score. I shed tears from the gratification of knowing I had committed myself to a goal and succeeded in achieving this goal.

This experience reaffirmed my belief that there is no obstacle too great to overcome with hard work and persistence. This is the lesson I carry with me moving forward. The journey so far has been, and will continue to be, fraught with challenges, but if I apply myself and make the necessary sacrifices, if I dedicate myself to learning, if I work as hard as those who have gone before me, then I will succeed. It is upon the foundation of such adversity that I have been able to build a bedrock of resilience, determination and resolve, all of which I know are necessary in the journey toward a career in medicine.

 Aside from academics, what is something that you are passionate about?

As someone who struggled with obesity throughout my childhood, I am more than familiar with the stigma and denial one faces. It was not until I decided to take a serious look at my situation that I realized the harsh reality. If I did not acknowledge my problem, I would never be able to tackle it. I made the critical decision to lose weight by changing my mindset and viewing my actions as a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary fix. My passion is maintaining that mindset and motivating the different people I encounter.

In the beginning, the journey was riddled with challenges, but I was determined to persevere. Before long, the weight began to shed off. Exercise and healthy eating became simple once I incorporated them into my daily schedule and encouraged my friends to join me. People sometimes ask me what keeps me motivated on my fitness journey, and the simple answer is, my health. I value the condition of my health too much to give up. Since then, I have lost more than 60 pounds and helped several members of my family start this journey. To maintain the progress made, I exercise three to five times a week and watch my diet. This routine has the added benefit of giving me an avenue to destress while in medical school. As a result of this experience, I gained a strong sense of discipline as well as a newfound perspective on the importance of one’s cardiovascular health. I remain forever grateful for the impact this change has had on my life.

 What type of legacy do you want to leave?

Our life on this earth is limited. Although we may all know this, I believe it is important to understand that we each have a purpose. By committing to that purpose and making an impact in the world, we can have a legacy that lives on. As the late Kobe Bryant said, “Heroes come and go, but legends are forever.”

There are so many things that I envision for my life and I want to ensure that when I leave the world, it is in a better place than when I was born. I want my legacy to be known as someone who put 110 percent into everything that he did. As someone who helped to address health care disparities and other barriers to health care that exist in our society. As someone who addressed the looming shortage of primary care physicians and limited access to specialists. As someone who launched a mentorship program for underrepresented minorities wanting to pursue the field of medicine. As someone who helped to increase the diversity of every institution and organization that he was a part of. As someone that developed several medical devices that reduced infections, mortality rates, hospital stays and health care costs overall. As someone who worked on research to develop vaccines to prevent and help fight potential epidemics like the COVID-19 coronavirus. As someone who built schools and was involved in several global health efforts to provide aide to the underserved in less developed countries. As you can see, I want to do so much. Although it may seem daunting, I know I can get all of it done as long as I develop a plan and proceed to take that first step.

What piece of advice would you tell people interested in pursuing medicine?

Be patient and think of the big picture. The journey is long and often rigorous, so do not lose sight of why you are pursuing medicine. It can be easy to get lost in the details of test scores, quizzes, day-to-day activities, etc. But when the going gets tough, remind yourself of the reasons why you decided to pursue this career. Lastly, know that many people like you have gone before you and achieved success, so, no matter how difficult things may be, remember that it always seems impossible until it is done.

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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