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Class of 2021: Undergraduate research inspires future physician-scientist to bridge the bedside and the bench

Posted by on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 in Uncategorized.

When Mason Clark was in middle school, his beloved grandmother suffered a serious heart attack.

Mason Clark, Class of 2021, is the recipient of the Coleman D. Oldham Honor Scholarship. (photo by John Russell)

She survived, thanks to the help of the local hospital, and the experience led Clark to his life’s purpose. Partly out of gratitude and partly out of curiosity, he began volunteering at the hospital and was drawn in by the possibility of helping others like his grandmother. 

“I fell in love with the hospital and with this idea that you can use science and critical thinking to alleviate people’s suffering,” he said. 

The Owensboro, Kentucky, native entered Vanderbilt planning to become a physician. He got involved in research, he said, to “check a box” for medical school admissions. But by the end of his first semester in the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lars Plate, Clark was rethinking his plans. He realized that research also played a key role in alleviating patients’ suffering and began to consider how he might bridge research and medicine in his post-Vanderbilt life. A molecular and cellular biology major, he’ll begin a fully funded, eight-year M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois at Chicago this summer.  

“If we understand things at the really small level, then slowly we’re going to be able to understand things more at a human level, and we’re going to be able to use that to improve how patients are treated,” he said. “Now what I really want to do with my career is to be a liaison between the lab bench and the bedside.” 

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