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A prescription for hugs, humor and hip hop

Charles A. Brown, D.O. ('09) pursues compassionate side of medicine

By Colleen Kiphart

June 1, 2009

The Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) doesn’t typically refer to its accomplished graduates as “clowns,” but in this case, it technically applies. Charles A. Brown, D.O. ('09), who received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree from OU-COM June 6, did some “clowning” as part of his 2008 John M. Stang Medical Student Elective at the Patch Adams’ Gesundheit! Institute in West Virginia.

At Gesundheit! Brown was part of a team of medical students who dressed as clowns and offered free hugs to the public.

“In medicine, we are in a profession that is based on humanism, but different factors—like the business side of practice and the hierarchy in the system—can distract from the purpose of medicine: to help all in need without discrimination,” Brown says. “I came back from the rotation refreshed.” 

The rotation, entitled “Humanistic Medicine: Constructing Your Humanism,” brought together eleven participants from four continents to find ways of incorporating humanism into their chosen health care careers. Gesundheit! is a project of Hunter “Patch” Adams, M.D. It began in 1972 as a free hospital located outside of Hillsboro in rural West Virginia. The institute is dedicated to bringing more compassion to medicine and examining how greed and competition compromise health care delivery. The 1998 movie Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams, was based on the Gesundheit!

“When we did those hugs I thought about how we are in a society removed from contact. If I was dressed normally and offered someone a hug, they would look at me like I was weird.” Brown says.

The value he places on connecting with patients led Brown to his chosen specialty, psychiatry. He says his desire to become a doctor stems, like Adams’, from a genuine need to help and connect with people.

Lewis Humble, M.D., Brown’s preceptor during his third- and fourth-year clinical rotations, admires Brown’s “great professional rapport” with colleagues and patients. “He quickly earns their full confidence and builds a level of trust,” says Humble, clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, Ohio.

Gregarious from an early age, Brown briefly considered stand-up comedy before realizing his passion lay in the sciences. 

“It may sound cliché, but honestly, it was a family experience that led me to discover medicine.” Brown tells about when he was in eighth grade and his father suffered a stroke. “One neurologist assisting in his treatment was African-American, and I realized that he was the first black doctor I had seen outside of Bill Cosby on TV. Being a doctor was something I hadn’t considered, but seeing someone who looked like me in that position—it opened a door in my mind that I didn’t know was there.”

He has taken measures to open those doors for other minority students in his home state of Indiana and across the country. Brown has been involved with the Student National Medical Association since his premed days, and now he speaks at high schools, middle schools and statewide conferences to encourage students to take up the white coat.

“It’s my job to show them that we’re not stuffy (in medicine),” Brown says, “to show that you can be grounded and have fun.” 

Brown is a perfect example of that, especially when he breaks out his anatomy rap. This self-described audiophile used hip hop to keep straight the vast volumes of information he encountered in medical school. He even recorded his rhymes and sent them to fellow medical students to assist their studies. It wasn’t unusual to see the medical student studying with earphones in. 

“During exams I would be running through a verse in my head. I might look at an answer and be like, ‘No that line isn’t right because it doesn’t rhyme with the question.’”

Despite his unconventional methods, Brown is a diligent clinician. Humble says, “I see a lot of medical students, but Charlie stuck out. He would seek out more training, even if it wasn’t in his rotation. He would come in early and stay late and put in so much effort.”

So what motivates Brown, who has been voted both “Best all-Around Classmate” and “Class Advocate” by his peers?  

“I want to do well. And I want to show those who have invested in my doing well that it was not for naught. My graduating shows how thankful I am to those who helped me. I take comfort (in knowing) that I made them proud.” 

Brown will begin his psychiatry residency this summer at Akron General Medical Center.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016