Heading home to Midland, TCOM’s Clarence Sparks is the first from the PCPP to participate in Match Day
Samantha Hustak remembers the taunts as a little girl. Katie Walter will never forget the day she got the news her athletic career was over. At the age of 45, Rachael Haines, a wife and mother of four, was ready for medical school and Clarence Sparks, a one-time college dropout, is now ready to head home to Midland to help his community.
These students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine have persevered, overcome and are now ready to reach the pinnacle of their medical school careers, Match Day.
Hearing loss, concussions, doubt, and juggling a family, each TCOM student is inspirational to their classmates and the profession they are about to enter. These are a few of the stories of TCOM’s Class of 2023. Today we meet Clarence Sparks.
Clarence Sparks’ journey to Match Day
Two decades later, it almost doesn’t seem real to the Midland native Clarence Sparks. He enrolled at Midland College when he was 21, but was soon diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes significant knee swelling and pain. Unable to take the pain, Sparks had to have surgery on both knees. With medical bills piling up fast, he had to drop out of college.
So much for his dreams of becoming a physician, right? No. Sparks defied the odds, re-enrolled at Midland College years later and, thanks to the Primary Care Pathway Program, he is on the verge of heading home to practice medicine.
Sparks, now 40, was an original member of the first PCPP cohort. The PCPP, launched in October 2015, aimed at expanding undergraduate and graduate medical education across Texas. The program is a unique partnership between Midland College, Midland Memorial Hospital, the University of North Texas in Denton and the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Students who enter the program must go through a rigorous curriculum at Midland College for two years before attending UNT in Denton for a year. Students who complete those three years then gain admittance into TCOM without needing an MCAT score. The accelerated pathway is academically demanding, but Sparks wasn’t deterred.
Sparks joined the program after taking a science course at Midland College and never looked back. That’s not to say his journey back to Midland has been easy, but it has been transformative.
“I barely recognize who I was at the beginning of the program,” Sparks said. “One thing I learned about myself is that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible. To say the least, I felt overwhelmed when I first started at TCOM. It felt like there was no way I would be able to learn enough for the first exam, let alone keep up that pace for multiple years. It really showed what I am capable of when truly challenged.”
Despite some anxious days early on, Sparks completed a year serving as the executive council secretary for the Medical Student Government Association and was the HOME (Homeless Outreach through Medical Education) clinic head coordinator.
Now with Match Day looming and graduation right around the corner, Sparks will be the first to head home to Midland to live up to the promise that was started in 2015.
“It really is something special to be able to go back to a place you use to work and get to start a new career with people you are already comfortable with,” he said. “I am especially fortunate that I may have a chance to work with a boss and company I already know and like.”
Sparks doesn’t have plans to just stick to medicine. He’s interested in possibly working with Midland College again to help continue the growth of the PCPP program.
Sparks will be the first graduate of the PCPP program in May, just seven years after he started the program — a program that has been transformative for so many lives. The cohorts behind Sparks are bigger and the students are just as anxious to get into medicine, but the bar has been set.
“It really has not hit me yet and I don’t think it will until I either hear that I have successfully matched or open the envelope on March 17,” Sparks said. “I sometimes look back at where I started on this journey and it is almost surreal how far I and others in the program have come.”