After spending 12 years as a Broadway actor, Clark Johnsen, OMS II, says his favorite part of showbiz was being part of the theater community, which he describes as extraordinarily open, curious and accepting.
“Being around theater people helped make me more curious about what makes people tick and what motivates their behavior, which has been a great asset to bring into my medical education,” he says.
Johnsen now attends the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York (TouroCOM-Harlem), where he’s president of the Student American Academy of Osteopathy. In this edited interview, he tells the story of his journey to osteopathic medical school and shares advice for other nontraditional med students.
Premed and dance
When I was 19, I moved to Sinaloa, Mexico, and spent two years working as a missionary for the Mormon church. A group of American physicians came to our village to volunteer, and I was so inspired by their knowledge and dedication that I decided I wanted to become a doctor.
After returning to college, I worked my way through the premed curriculum, but I also took dance classes and acted in musical theater productions for fun. At rehearsals, when I wasn’t onstage, I would be sitting in the wings studying organic chemistry. My premed advisor encouraged me because he thought my performing arts background would help set me apart from other applicants during medical school interviews.
New York, New York
When I graduated from undergrad, my theater friends convinced me to move to New York with them to pursue a career in performing. I was planning to stay for two years, tops, and then apply for medical school. But within five weeks of moving, I got my first theater job, and within two more years, I was making my Broadway debut. I ended up doing three Broadway shows and four national tours, spanning a career of 12 years.
I got to act in a lot of memorable shows, but one of the highlights of my career was being part of the musical The Book of Mormon. I’m no longer part of the Mormon church, but I still have a great fondness for the work I did and the people I met during my mission in Mexico. Because of the resonance with my own story, getting to play a Mormon missionary on Broadway was an incredibly meaningful experience.
The osteopathic experience
Osteopathic medicine really appealed to me because of the way you’re taught to try to connect the dots and think about care in a more holistic way. I’ve found that osteopathic medical students are very accepting of people who’ve had different experiences on their way to medicine. I was worried that I would stand out like a sore thumb, but my class is incredibly diverse. I’m far from being the only one who’s taken a different path to get here.
Advice for nontraditional students
Before I began studying at TouroCOM-Harlem, I was worried that it was too late for me to start medical school. I was considering going into another area of medicine that would require less time in the classroom or less of a financial commitment.
But learning medicine has been revitalizing and invigorating in a way I couldn’t have imagined. My advice to other nontraditional medical students is, go for it! If you have a passion for medicine and a passion for people, I wouldn’t hesitate for one second to recommend the experience I’ve had.