When it comes to embracing our dreams, there’s a lot of societal factors that can block our views of an ideal reality. Dr. Robert Falcone is an expert surgeon, artist, and musician, but more than anything, he’s an inspiration for overcoming the obstacles that tried to hold him back from achieving his goals. Now, Dr. Falcone has dedicated his career to helping others maintain the persistence it takes to embrace all of the things they want to achieve.
“I started out as a poor immigrant, and thanks to a combination of skill, persistence and luck I achieved a fair amount of success,” Dr. Robert Falcone stated when discussing what it took to make it in the healthcare industry and the inequalities that exist within the field. For individuals living in lower socioeconomic settings, there’s so many additional obstacles when it comes to achieving educational, career, and life goals.
Specifically, our society unfortunately makes it exponentially more difficult for BIOPIC individuals to succeed, especially in healthcare; only 2% of physicians throughout America are African American.
The American dream is not conductive to every citizen’s experience, however, people like Dr. Falcone have dedicated a major part of their career creating new opportunities for individuals who want to succeed and enjoy the work that they do. His own personal experiences growing up as an immigrant who couldn’t read, write, or speak English well as he was growing up motivated him to create his own path towards success, and now he’s doing the same for others.
“Diversity was always a matter of fact for me. I never felt comfortable in the suburban country club type of aesthetic and life, because it never was accepting of me growing up. I found solace with those in the city who embraced the differences in their cultures.”
Dr. Falcone was heavily involved in the arts and music growing up. After taking a standard aptitude test in grade school, he ended up in vocational education with a focus on art and music. As someone who entered into the American educational system barely understood English, it wasn’t until he got older that Dr. Falcone would realize he could branch out beyond the creative arts that he embraced in his upbringing.
He also went through a life changing event that redirected his focus and taught him how to be persistent with his goals to truly take on all that life could throw at him.
“In the spring of 1969, I was involved in a terrible motor vehicle collision which took the life of my girlfriend at the time and put me in the hospital for three months. During that time I began to realize how much more life had to offer compared to what I thought growing up. I loved art and music, but the art of medicine, no pun intended, became so fascinating to me, so I pursued it.
I transferred from Cleveland State to Kent State college, and changed my major from art to pre-medicine, and in my case, chemistry. I dedicated myself to this path and worked my way through internship and residency programs, and with that perseverance I’ve been able to hold leadership positions in every role I’ve taken on since that point.
Initially I was a trauma and critical care surgeon, which I did for 18 years. After that I went into administration in a variety of places. I’m currently the CEO of a conglomerate of public good organizations, which includes a medical association that helps further drive the other organizations involved.”
Dr. Falcone’s organizational work began with providing medical assistance and support for patients with limited access to healthcare resources, as well as providing educational paths and programs for future physicians. He is currently the CEO of the Columbus Medical Association, the Columbus Medical Association Foundation, the Physician’s Care Connection, COTS, the Physician’s Leadership Academy and Made for Medicine.
“The organizations I currently work with go beyond just medical assistance, we assist individuals with the resources they need such as food and housing assistance. We take care of the whole person, which for many people is life saving.”
The Columbus Medical Association is the umbrella organization that Dr. Falcone runs that assists him in running all the other organizations he’s become involved in.
“At the Columbus Medical Association (CMA), we are physicians and other experts working together to support physicians and advance the community through professional advocacy, education, and services. We empower physicians to do what they do best by giving them what they really want – and need – to be successful in today’s rapidly changing healthcare environment.
One of the organizations I currently work with, The Physicians Care Connection led by Isi Green, goes beyond just medical assistance, we assist individuals with the resources they need such as food and housing assistance. We take care of the whole person, which for many people is life saving.”
One of the biggest issues that Dr. Falcone is trying to combat through his work is bridging the gap of diversity within America’s healthcare system. He wants to create more opportunities and spaces for black people and people of color to explore medicine and feel safe in their path to success. Working with the Founder and lead Physician Laura Espy Bell, MD his organization Made For Medicine specifically works with kids who are often discouraged from entering into the healthcare field, but the work they do goes beyond just medicine.
“Like everybody else, African Americans would prefer to go to a physician that can empathize with their experiences, so our goal with Made for Medicine is to diversify the pool of available doctors throughout the country through early intervention for kids who are curious and passionate about entering into the medical field.”
Made for Medicine does amazing and necessary work when it comes to our future physicians. The organization travels to middle schools that are populated by Black teenagers and shows them what it’s like to be a doctor, and helps them understand how to continue that passion as they get older and move on to college. The organization is relatively new, but it’s already become one of the most rewarding things Dr. Falcone’s been involved in throughout his career.
“Only about 2% of physicians in the US are African American, our goal with Made for Medicine is to become involved in the spaces that Black children are learning in to motivate them to continue with a career in medicine and/or healthcare if that’s what they’re passionate about, while dismantling the societal and systemic obstacles that are unfairly put in their way to prevent them from continuing that educational journey.
I grew up in a small Slovenian enclave surrounded by African Americans and other people of color, so diversity was never a foreign concept to me. Growing up in America as an Italian immigrant with a heavy accent, I experienced my own sense of prejudice and isolation, which gave me a greater understanding of the divide between socioeconomic status’ and the advantages that certain demographics have compared to others.
People of color don’t get the same level of care as those who are white and with privilege. In today’s healthcare culture, it’s most common to go see a doctor when you’re not feeling well, meet with them briefly, and then likely get prescribed something to help; it’s a very blueprinted model of doing things.
This model of practicing medicine has led to a lot of patients feeling like they’re not being fully heard, especially black individuals and people of color. The goal with Made for Medicine is to provide opportunities to young visionary’s who recognize, and have likely experienced, the inequalities in the industry, and want to make a change.
The bigger issue we have in our society is a lot of the racial disparity that we see has evolved from racist ideals that date back for centuries. Even simple things that we don’t think about everyday like how our freeways were built, or how certain communities were funded, were all done with the intention of preventing black prosperity.”
When it comes to the ways in which general society can work to make space for individuals who are denied certain opportunities simply based on their socioeconomic situation and/or race, Dr. Falcone says the first thing we all need to do is admit that there’s a real problem and divide in our country.
“There are a lot of people who fully believe that racism is no longer an issue in our world but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I think a lot of people are afraid to admit it because it taints their image of what this country specifically is meant to be, a melting pot of all cultures, races, and ethnicities, but that blissful ignorance is actually keeping the problem alive.”
Beyond just medicine, Dr. Falcone has put a lot of work into organizations that are meant to motivate, encourage, and comfort people as they work their way through life and its many challenges.
“COTS is another organization that I’m the CEO of. It is led by Sharri Kovach and started as a trauma organization but has morphed into a place that covers trauma, emergency services, and disaster preparedness planning which covers 36 of the 88 counties in Ohio. We played an integral role in Covid-19 pandemic response, and have been able to keep our communities updated and informed when it comes to their health and safety throughout 2020-2021.
I’m also the CEO for an organization called the Physicians Leadership Academy, a school built through the vision of Phil Cass, PhD that provides a one year program to teach mindful physician leadership. Peer to Peer is another organization under CMA and led by Stephanie Costa, MD that provides anonymous peer support for physicians in distress.”
A major aspect of maintaining a balance between your personal and professional life is embracing your individual creativity, and finding the time to give yourself some joy everyday.
When it comes to Dr. Falcone’s relationship with art, music, and his creative side in general, he found himself struggling to maintain that connection when he first began practicing medicine. The busy schedule of a surgeon, especially when they’re first entering the field, becomes their whole life. As he became more established in the industry, he was able to find the time to reconnect with his art and music.
“Focusing in on your creativity will help you solve more problems than you know. When you feel stuck in any aspect of your life, keeping those creative gears turning will assist you in figuring out new ideas and solutions to the issues that you face.”
When you’re younger, it’s easy to be affected by the world around you and the authoritative individuals that tell you you’re not good enough, or won’t be able to work hard enough to maintain your dreams and the things you want to accomplish. Dr. Falcone recalls constantly being told growing up that he should move away from his passion for medicine, and that he didn’t belong in the space. This continued on throughout his college career as well, but what kept him going was his own sense of self.
This sense of self was maintained through focusing on the things that brought him joy in life, which included the creative outlets he was able to embrace growing up.
“Having that creative side of my life has kept me human. Being a surgeon, it’s so easy to dissociate from your own personal joys because of how much of your life it takes up. While I do love medicine and everything I’ve done and continue to do with my career, it’s essential to keep those parts of me alive to remind myself that life is multifaceted, and the things that bring you joy should be embraced.
I have to admit, a major part of that balance I have to credit to the fact that for most of my life I never slept. Getting four hours of sleep a night is a win in my book, and because of that I was able to find the time to take care of myself and the things that truly brought me joy outside of my career. It’s all about balance, and recording music and painting has always been a special part of my life, so I made sure to find the time to do it.
It’s interesting because looking back at my time in medical school, most of the students I was with were all artists or athletes or had some other major side to themselves that they would try to maintain, but by the second year it seemed that all of those outlets were dormant.
It’s easy to get discouraged, but you can’t let outside voices of disparity overtake the persistence that you have within yourself. If you want something, and you’re persistently doing everything you can to make it happen, you have to focus on that, and how hard you’re working. In turn, those voices of discouragement become background noise.”
Dr. Falcone also discussed how in today’s modern world, technology and social media has made it seem impossible for people to view their goals as feasible. There’s a level of overexposure to not only all the forces working against you, but the individuals who are just like you and just as skilled as you that make it seem as if you’re never going to be able to stand out.
“There needs to be a disconnect between this digital reality and actual reality, or else you’re just becoming a virtual being. Obviously technology has also given a voice and platform to so many people when it comes to their dreams and what they want to do, so again it’s about finding that balance in your persistence and the energy you’re putting into yourself and your work.
When it comes to technology and social media, Dr. Falcone believes that it’s become an amazing world and tool for individuals to use in many ways. His main issue is when it becomes a person’s whole life, to the point that they start dictating their self worth on the content they absorb everyday.
“There needs to be a separation from the digital and “analog” world in order for one to succeed. Use the tools and technology you have to better yourself and advance your life in line with your goals, but remember to take breaks and ground yourself in reality. Again, it’s all about balance.”
At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do for yourself is stay true to who you are, follow your dreams as if they’re already a reality, and most importantly, be persistent.
To learn more about the Columbus Medical Association, the Columbus Medical Association Foundation, the Physician’s Care Connection, COTS, the Physician’s Leadership Academy, Made for Medicine, and Robert Falcone, click the corresponding links.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.