Graduating medical student aims to use degree to close gap in health disparities

Michael Knight is a student who makes people shake their heads and ask, “How do you do it?” He led the Student National Medical Association, gave vocal coaching to members of Doc Opera and volunteered in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. That’s just a few of activities that Knight, a 2012 graduate of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, undertook as a medical student.

“When you have a passion, you work long hours and give up watching television or other things to get it done,” Knight said.

Knight’s medical school experience included research on cancer and other projects at the Cleveland Clinic and a National Institutes of Health Clinical Research Training Program in Washington, D.C., in diabetes research.

He also advocated for and mentored minority youths in Cleveland and at the national level in his role as the immediate past president of SNMA.

“I let them know they can have a career in medicine, law, or another field even if they don’t see these people in their neighborhoods,” said Knight, who grew up in the Bronx in New York City. He did his undergraduate work at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala., where he majored in biomedical sciences with a minor in vocal performance music.

While in medical school, Knight also championed those facing medical issues because of health disparities. He fought for HIV/AIDS awareness and spearheaded a national outreach effort with SNMA’s 6,000 members and made a public service announcement that ran online and in social media. In addition, he researched a number of medical issues, including diabetes, which particularly impacts African-American women. He had the opportunity to testify as SNMA’s spokesperson about health disparities before members of the U.S. Senate.

He will attend commencement Sunday, May 20, in Veale Convocation Center, and later in at Severance Hall, to receive his diploma to the cheers of 40 relatives who welcome and honor the family’s first medical doctor.

This is the 10th year of the unique research-based medical program for students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, who pursue research and medical careers. Knight is in the fifth graduating class in the five-year program for their MD degree.

Knight credits the great support he received from his mentor, John Glazer, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic whom Knight said, “was there for me day or night.”

Upon graduation, Knight carries with him the valuable lesson “that you can dispense all the medicines a person needs, but if they go home to a place without electricity or worry about the children’s education and safety that medicine isn’t enough.” He wants to close the gap in health disparities.

Knight said his goal is to work both in a hospital and to make changes in the neighborhood happen, or else all those social conditions can keep a person sick. “We need a holistic approach to medicine,” he said.

On Match Day, a national event when medical students across the country learn where they will intern, Knight said he may just have outshouted his classmates with joy when he opened the envelope and saw he’ll begin his internship, and later residency, at New York Presbyterian Hospital–Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.

It was his first choice because he wants to give back to the city.

He is already on the way to doing just that.