From Trench Town to the lawns of King’s House

Dr Robert Clarke’s journey from mean streets to national honour for giving back through medicine

His journey began on the mean streets of the inner-city community of Trench Town, in south St Andrew, and took him to the lawns of King’s House where, last Monday, October 16, he stood before the governor-general of his country to receive membership in the Order of Distinction (Officer Class). The honour was confirmed upon Dr Robert Anthony Clarke by the Government of Jamaica for his many charitable contributions to his native land, as well as his devotion to his craft as a medical doctor.

Clarke attended Trench Town Infant School, Trench Town Primary School and later what was then Trench Town Comprehensive High School, as well as Kingston Technical High School Extension.

At an early age, he was fascinated by airplanes and would watch them fly overhead, vowing that one day he would pilot such an aircraft.

But his dreams of becoming a pilot were derailed at age 12 when he broke his arm and encountered his first doctor.

“I did not want to go to the doctor, being afraid that he would hurt my arm even more than it hurt being broken. I cried as the doctor tried to set my arm, but my encounter with one doctor changed everything. He was speaking with me and I was unaware that he was putting the plaster of Paris on my arm,” said Clarke.

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When he became aware of his arm being set, Clarke said he was fascinated by the ease with which the doctor was able to calm him and get his arm stabilised.

“It was at that point that I switched from wanting to be a pilot and decided to become a doctor,” he said.

This passion to become a doctor gained even more momentum as he observed many in his community dying from a lack of adequate medical attention or others being unable to access medical services, either through distrust or a lack of money.

Clarke vowed to himself that he would do something to address the difficulty faced by people in the inner cities and other under-served communities in being able to access medical services.

After graduating high school, he worked as an accountant with Ocean Edge Club at Port Henderson. He left after about a year for the Ministry of Labour where he worked in the Farm Work Division for about five years.

In 1986, Clarke migrated to the United States and began undertaking the journey that would lead him to be a medical doctor.

He received a scholarship that took him to Seton Hall University in New Jersey where he majored in mathematics.

He was later accepted to medical school and completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey.

Clarke also specialises in opiate addiction medicine.

He has held several positions with a number of hospitals in New Jersey where he has been or is medical director. He has also overseen a number of nursing homes in New Jersey. In all this, he has taught medical students, interns and nurse practitioners.

Clarke also has his own private practice, East Orange Medical Service in East Orange, New Jersey, where he sees patients on a daily basis.

Despite his busy schedule, he still finds time to undertake medical missions to Jamaica yearly as head of Help Jamaica Medical Mission, which he founded with others in 2010.

Clarke, through Help Jamaica Medical Mission, has visited some 50 communities in Jamaica and treated more than 40,000 patients over the years. He has also adopted the Linstead Hospital in St Catherine and donates equipment and much-needed supplies on a yearly basis.

Helping stranded J’cans

Little known is the fact that Clarke has seen many patients for free at his practice who are out of status in the United States.

During COVID-19, with many Jamaicans stranded in the United States unable to get back home because the Jamaican borders were closed, Clarke partnered with the Consul General to New York, Alsion Wilson, and the consulate to provide medicines to many stranded Jamaicans whose medication had run out.

He also visited Jamaica at the height of COVID-19 to assist at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital where he treated COVID-19 patients. He also supplied the Ministry of Health with much-needed medicines and other supplies during the pandemic.

True to his vow about providing medical services to under-served and inner-city communities, Clarke has personally undertaken the cost of dialysis treatment for patients in Jamaica as well as flying Jamaicans to the United States to have surgery.

He has taken the lead in providing assistance to several needy medical cases in Jamaica. He said he is the first person called by the consulate when Jamaicans need medical assistance and donates his services for free.

“I give back because I don’t think anyone should die from a lack of proper health care because of not having access to health services or due to a lack of money,” he said.

He stressed that he does not only teach patients about preventative medicine, but also about proper medical hygiene.

Clarke said when he started giving back in the area of medicine he did so because, as a child of an inner-city community in Jamaica, he saw first-hand how many people suffered and died because of the lack of proper medical care either because they distrusted the system to provide them with the treatment they needed or because they could not easily access healthcare.

“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people at the bottom of the economic ladder so that they could access healthcare, as well as being taught the essentials of proper healthcare and prevention,” he told The Gleaner.

He said that, where people can, they should strive to make a difference in the lives of those who are in need.

Clarke noted that he goes to communities in Jamaica and elsewhere not only to heal, but to prevent.

Speaking with The Gleaner after receiving his national award, Clarke said he was honoured and humbled.

“I never thought this would happen,” he said.

However, he stressed that the work he does is done in the spirit of giving back and not to seek recognition and awards.

“That is not the intent.”

So, the boy who grew up in Trench Town has conquered the world of medicine, held true to his vow to give back and is now a member of the Order of Distinction.

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