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Meet Dr. Ryan Clark, pain and rehab medicine physician

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Dr. Ryan Clark of BayCare Clinic poses in front of a mountainous landscape with his fiancee, Dr. Puja Bhakta, also of BayCare Clinic.

Dr. Ryan Clark was going to be a basketball superstar. That was the plan.

“I was always a sports kid,” he says. “I wanted to be Michael Jordan when I was a kid. I was a big basketball guy. I wanted to play basketball, football; I was a swimmer. I wanted to play everything.”

But sometimes the best-laid plans don’t pan out.

“In high school, I learned that I wasn’t quite as athletic as Michael Jordan,” Clark says with a laugh. “I tore my knee up playing football and then I had to get surgery for that.”

Surgery fixed his knee. It also set him on a course to an alternate – and more attainable – career.

Today, Clark is a fellowship-trained physiatrist with BayCare Clinic Pain & Rehab Medicine. He has special interest in interventional pain management.

“I kind of got exposed to the medical field” while having knee surgery, he says. “I met a guy who was an orthopedic surgeon and I was like, you know, I think this is the way to go. I think my sports has taken me as far as it’s going to go.

“From there, I just kind of followed through.”

Following through meant occasionally shadowing the orthopedic surgeon, a mentor, as he shared his medical experiences, insights on technologies and more with Clark.

“We had great conversations and I shadowed him a little bit and, like, he would show me X-rays and show me what he did, you know? He was just, ‘This is the new technique we’re using for this. Look at this technology. Check out this MRI,’ Clark says.”

Clark discussed his career interest with his parents. Their reaction?

“They immediately tried to talk me out of it,” he says, chuckling. “Yeah, I’m from a family of lawyers and I told them I want to go into medicine and they said, ‘No, it’s too much school. You’ll be there forever. Don’t do it. You know, do something else.’ I had to kind of fight back a little.”

Clark graduated from Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

“It was a great experience,” he says. “I learned a ton.”

However, Clark didn’t follow his mentor’s footsteps to specialize in orthopedic surgery.

“I had some interesting surgery experiences with some doctors who are not very caring for patients or med students and then I did physical medicine and rehab and that’s where they really cared about you, they cared what you thought, how everything was,” he says.

That approach to medicine and patient care was better suited to Clark’s personality, he says.

But Clark didn’t pursue a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Pain and rehab medicine offered more, he says.

“I always liked to be the leader of the team,” he says. “I was kind of always the captain of all my teams growing up. I felt like as the physician you kind of were the leader of the team and you could kind of help everyone to be their best versus the physical therapist. You know, you kind of have a pretty finite role and there’s limits to what you can do.”

Clark completed his residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University’s Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. He completed fellowship training in pain medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

He is board certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in pain medicine and in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

One of Clark’s main areas of focus is to provide a positive experience for each patient.

“Most people say I have a pretty good bedside manner,” he says. “You listen and you address the concerns. You know, I meet everybody in the room so if your wife’s with you, I make sure I know her name and know what’s going on.

“I try to do that with every aspect of the care.”

When he’s not treating patients, Clark still heeds the siren call of sports.

“I watch a ton of sports, play a ton of sports,” he says.

Clark also spends family time with his wife.

“We have a black Lab and most of the time I spend just fetching with her. She just wants to fetch all day so that’s what we do,” he says.

Published: Friday, January 7, 2022