Q&A with Joseph F. Clark, PhD

A leading stroke researcher relates how EMS changed his life


Excerpt from My Ambulance Education

Joseph F. Clark, PhD, has an impressive resume in the medical fields. He's a professor in the University of Cincinnati's Department of Neurology, and an adjunct prof in its Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology. He's codirector of its Point of Care Center for Emerging Neurotechnologies, and chief scientific officer at Xanthostat Diagnostics, a local company working on technology to improve detection of bleeding in the brain. He has authored or coauthored more than 70 scientific journal articles and three scientific texts.

But in My Ambulance Education: Life & Death on the Streets of the City, published earlier this year by Firefly Books, what Clark recalls is his early career as an EMT. Clark joined the ambulance biz as a teenager to pay his way through college, and spent seven years working the mean streets of New York City. His resulting tome isn't for the faint of heart, but as Publishers Weekly concluded, "Readers with the stomach for it will be drawn in by this high-speed, adrenaline-powered ride-along."

Here Clark discusses the book's background, the accompanying excerpt and writing for publication.

How long have you been writing, and how did you come to publish My Ambulance Education?

I write for my work as a college professor doing stroke research, so I've been writing science books and research articles for over 20 years. While science writing and writing something like My Ambulance Education are quite different, there are some similarities. The first and foremost is that to write both, you need to write about what you know and have a focused point to make. Every word needs to build to answer a question and provide relevant information. In science we try to tell a story with data and hypotheses. Writing a book is definitely about writing a story with historical events and telling the story of the work that was done.

My Ambulance Education came about because I was encouraged to write down some of the stories I used to tell about working on the ambulance. This was true for the story about Bob the new guy, as well as Fritz and Alice. These events were told to my science colleagues when I tried to explain to them why I was so focused and driven on my scientific research. After I put some stories in print, they started to show a bigger theme of helping people. This theme remained throughout the book and is still a driving force in my current work. Eventually I added more and more stories and was fortunate to hook up with a professional editor, Carol Cartaino. She helped make the stories flow and be accessible to a broader audience, without losing the life-and-death aspects that make the book real. The more eyes that see a book, the better, and eventually it was picked up by Firefly.

Why will EMS providers be interested in this book?

I think there are multiple reasons that EMS providers and paramedical personnel will be interested in this book. First, Education is in the title for a reason. Working on the ambulance is an education, and it affects everyone in the field. I'm sure many people will nod knowingly at the tragedies that are recounted and feel the emotions I felt. How I tried to handle those events may or may not be the way a reader might manage their feelings; we all might use different techniques for handling the stress. Some people might be interested in reading about how I would go and visit the Labor and Delivery floor of the hospital to look at the babies if I was upset about a call. Others will see the gallows humor for what it is: a defense mechanism. Everyone in the field knows there are days or calls that change you. I tried very hard to portray how I was changed by a series of calls, which helped push me toward my career in medical research. For good or for bad, we are all changed by the job, and this is the story of how I changed and why.

You've said Fritz is a strong memory for you--why does he stand out?

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