From student athlete to orthopaedic surgeon
Dr Camille Coates-Clark made history recently when she became the first Jamaican woman to be board certified as an orthopaedic surgeon in the United States.
Her achievement is even more notable against the fact that only about 0.6 per cent of women of colour are in the field of board-certified orthopaedic medicine. Overall, only about six per cent of women dot the profession.
Coates-Clark was born in St. Catherine, Jamaica, and first attended St Jago Prep school, then Immaculate Conception High School.
It was during her time living in Ensom City, St Catherine that she began a track career at age eight, running in local community meets.
She continued running track at Immaculate at a time when the school was more noted for swimming than track. In fact, during the early 1980s when she represented the school at Girls’ Champs in the 100 and 200 metres, she was really the only student doing so.
Coates-Clark would go on to represent Jamaica at a number of international track meets, including the Carifta Games and the Pan American Games.
She was selected for the 1987 Commonwealth Games which were to be held in South Africa but which Jamaica boycotted because of that government’s racist policies.
She has won several gold and silver medals at various track meets during her track career.
Coates-Clark’s prowess on the track would lead to her being offered a track scholarship with a choice of either Princeton or Abilene Christian universities. She decided on the latter school and attended from 1984 to 1987.
Because of her educational achievements attending Immaculate, she was allowed to forgo certain courses at Abilene which, saw her graduating in three years instead of the normal four-year period. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree.
During her time at Abilene, she continued her track career, representing the school at a number of prestigious meets across the USA, winning gold and silver medals in her favourite, the 100-metre event.
From there, it was on to Howard University Medical School where she did orthopaedic surgery. She is also certified in sports medicine.
Coates-Clark currently works as an orthopaedic surgeon with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department in Gainsville, Florida.
“I was always interested in orthopaedic medicine. I like the challenge that this branch of medicine presents,” she said. “I deal mainly with shoulder and knee-type injuries,”
Her interest in orthopaedic medicine was further spurred by observing the ailments that afflicted her mother, but she had also been affected by hamstring injuries during her athletic days. Today, she experiences satisfaction from helping persons heal and return to an active life.
Noting that she was team doctor for some high schools while she was in New York, Dr Coates- Clark said she derives great satisfaction when her patients can return to doing what they used to do.
“I have treated many Jamaicans through my working for the VA. I have helped many get back in shape and that gives me great joy,” she said.
While she has not treated Jamaican athletes, she does see many Jamaicans from the different branches of the US military, through her work with the VA, who she has treated and had them return to a productive life. Coates-Clark has expressed her delight that more women are getting into orthopaedic medicine.
She professes no interest in working for any major sporting franchise, nor does she practise privately.
“I love working for the VA,” she told The Gleaner.
The Immaculate alumna continues to give back to her school and is slated to speak with students at Immaculate during an upcoming visit. Her brother and herself continue to make contributions to educational institutions in Jamaica.
Her advice to her fellow Jamaicans is, “You can do anything that you want to do.”
“Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do what you want to do. If you put your mind to it, you will achieve it. Focus on what is your passion and pursue your dream,” she said.
Coates-Clark encouraged Jamaicans not to be afraid to work hard and to be happy in their career choice. She also suggested that they find a mentor to guide them.
The married mother-of-two is an inductee in the Abilene Christian University Athletic Hall of Fame and has had several other honours bestowed on her, including the James F. Mitchell Foundation medical education and research fellowship. She has been recognised for outstanding achievement as a medical student, being a member of Who’s Who Among American Universities and Colleges, and has received the Langue Medical Publication Award.