(ANNCR): The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services presents Take Charge: real life accounts of people who overcome obstacles to reach their goals.
Howard: My name is Mark Howard and I'm a psychiatrist specializing in psychosomatic medicine.
So I have a condition that's genetic called cone dystrophy. I had it at birth. That's a condition that has left me as a person that is legally blind since early childhood.
With correction- meaning with my contacts in like today or glasses on sometimes, I see 20/200 which means what a person typically sees at 200 feet, I have to be at 20 feet to be able to see.
So I had a pretty typical childhood. Growing up I was involved in a lot of sports. I did wrestling, and track and cross country in high school. I did academic bowl. I was involved with the Boy Scouts and I became an Eagle Scout.
My parents encouraged me a lot to do those things that I wanted to do. Well actually in high school and even in college I was pretty interested in the mind and understanding how the mind and the body work together.
(ANNCR): Mark shared his goal to attend medical school with his Oklahoma DRS visual services counselor.
Nelson: My name is Jane Nelson and I was the counselor for Mark when he first applied for services.
Howard: Jane had some reservations or some doubts about whether or not I'd be able to achieve my goals.
Nelson: I really tried to discourage him from that. Mainly because of my own doubts, not his. I told him that it was very difficult for anyone to get into medical school and then to have the significant visual impairment that he had, it would be a really huge leap. But that didn't seem to deter him.
Howard: But even though she had those doubts, she never stood in my way in any way. She always provided me opportunities to be successful.
Nelson: He was very quiet, very determined, very focused. He knew what he wanted and he was going to achieve it.
ANNCR): After he was accepted into the University of Oklahoma Medical School, Mark got a call from university officials. The Dean of Medicine wanted to meet with Mark to be sure he was up to the challenge.
Andrews: I am Dewayne Andrews, I'm Vice President for Health Affairs of the Health Sciences Center, and the Executive Dean of the College of Medicine.
Well I think at first he was just more curious and friendly. And as the meeting went on he became progressively more encouraged that I would be able to do it.
He convinced me that he really had a passion for medicine, that he was committed to it, that he knew he was going to have to work hard. He knew that he might have to adapt in certain ways that other students didn't.
And although it was a bit of a risk at that time, as I viewed it, I thought it was certainly a worthwhile risk.
Howard: So the challenges of medical school with respect to my vision were pretty steep. I mean, it started off with the academic challenges. The volume of material that you have to learn, the tons and tons of readings that are assigned.
And there were definitely times where I was faced with my own self doubt. But I really just pushed through despite that.
ANNCR): More challenges awaited Mark as he began his clinical rotation at the Veterans Administration hospital. There he met one of his first mentors.
Orwig: My name is Steve Orwig and I'm the associate chief of staff for education at the VA hospital here in OKC.
Howard: I was pretty nervous going in to the clinical years because I wasn't sure how my vision would translate into that setting because it was completely unfamiliar versus the academic setting.
Dr. Orwig though treated me just like any of the other medical students. And he was actually somebody who was very impactful because he was such a good clinician and such a good teacher.
Orwig: Even before I met Mark, even before he came over to the VA, I remember thinking that for someone to go through the first two years of medical school, all the basic sciences all the classes. Learning thousands of new words and all these new ideas and relationships. That's really difficult and challenging for anyone.
And so I knew for someone who had some sort of sensory impairment to be able to go through that they had have particular intelligence and persistence and commitment and hard work.
(ANNCR): Mark continued to work hard and graduated from medical school. Today he's a successful psychiatrist practicing in Boston, Massachusetts.
Howard: I think the biggest take away to anyone that has special obstacles in their life is that they've got to find the ways that they can be successful.
Figure out what it is that they need to overcome their hurdles and how to position themselves so that they can overcome them.
Lean on those supports because those are really important. And believe in yourself. Because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody else is gonna step up to the plate and believe in you either.
(ANNCR): Learn more about the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and find out if they can help you or someone you know. Call toll free 1-800-487-4042 or visit us on the web at okdrs.gov.