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When Mark Adams considers his journey from aspiring doctor to lawyer, he says it was all about “being willing and able to change gears and trust in my own knowledge of who I am and what I wanted to do.” There were other factors, of course. In addition to his own hard work and determination, Adams credits his family and community with supporting him in his career journey.
Adams is now senior associate general counsel at Weill Cornell Medicine, the medical college of Cornell University in New York City. According to College Gazette, it is ranked among the top five best medical schools in New York; in 2021, it was ranked number eleven nationally on the US News & World Report ranking of medical schools.
“We have a three-pronged mission: excellent patient care, world-class groundbreaking medical research, and educating the next generation of outstanding doctors and scientists,” Adams says.
His story begins in Mobile, Alabama, where he grew up in the seventies and eighties. “Mobile, as a city, had a down-home feel about it,” he says. “I have four siblings. My father was a high school and community college teacher, and my mother was a social worker. At that time, it was rare in that location and in African American communities that both parents were college-educated like mine. Still, working full-time and raising a large family wasn’t easy. They were hardworking and put education first. They did not want us to have any societal restraints.”
“Looking back, I don’t think I was willing to accept the awesome responsibility and uncertainty, where lives in the balance is part of the deal. It was difficult to leave. I had never quit anything in my life.”Mark Adams
Adams describes his family as middle class. “My parents,” he says, “sacrificed to send all of us to Catholic private school.”
All five Adams children graduated from college (“It was never a question,” Adams says). He decided to pursue a career in medicine. “I viewed being a doctor as a noble profession,” he says. “In my young mind, that was the best career choice to make my parents proud.”
He chose Xavier University of Louisiana, top-ranked for getting African Americans into medical school. He then attended the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and while he says he did reasonably well there, he also began to reexamine what it was he wanted to do. “One thing that med school teaches you is that you better love this,” he says. “It won’t work if you don’t.”
Adams didn’t, as it turned out. “Looking back, I don’t think I was willing to accept the awesome responsibility and uncertainty, where lives in the balance is part of the deal,” he says. “It was difficult to leave. I had never quit anything in my life.”
His brother, a lawyer, asked him if he had considered the legal profession. “He said that even when we were kids, I won all of our arguments,” Adams recalls with a laugh. “I realized that one goes to medical school to become a doctor. If you go to law school, you can pursue a number of things. So, after I spent about four years working as a biomedical research assistant at a few different institutions, I decided to take some pre-law and paralegal courses. I found that I enjoyed this legal subject matter and did really well.”
He ended up attending Howard University School of Law, where he was class president for two years and a member of the Howard Law Journal. “Law school was very rigorous, but at Howard it was also supportive and nurturing,” he says.
Adams began his legal career at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York City, where he was a corporate associate working on a variety of complex transactions, including structured finance, mergers and acquisitions, and securities matters. After almost five years at a major law firm, he transitioned to an in-house counsel position at IBM. For more than seven years, he focused on transactional matters supporting IBM’s business, before the opportunity to work in healthcare law at Weill Cornell Medicine came about.
At Weill Cornell Medicine, Adams has been able to draw on both his medical research and legal training. “I’m the primary medical research attorney for Weill Cornell’s legal department,” he says. “Most of my time is spent in the research space, supporting both the basic sponsored research and clinical trials that lead to discovery and the successful implementation of various treatment therapies, drugs, and devices. I also provide negotiation and other legal support for various transactional, regulatory, corporate governance, and policy matters.”
“Lack of representation has created some trust issues with healthcare. If less than 10 percent of doctors are people of color, there is a problem with representation that ultimately affects those communities’ comfort and confidence.”Mark Adams
In his nine years at the medical college, Adams has developed significant interest in improving equity in healthcare across diverse communities.
“The African American community historically has had more chronic illnesses, like hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease—not to mention the disproportionate impact of COVID-19,” he says. “Some of it is socioeconomic- and education-based. It’s lack of access to healthcare and good food. Lack of representation in the medical field has also created some trust issues with healthcare. If less than 10 percent of doctors are people of color, there is a problem with representation that ultimately affects those communities’ comfort and confidence.
“In the last several years,” Adams continues, “Weill Cornell Medicine has worked to enact initiatives to address inequities in healthcare. They have created pipeline STEM programs that extend back to middle school, improved student and faculty diversity through recruitment and mentoring, and removed financial burdens to help students succeed when they get here.”
Adams himself has become involved in implementing research programs aimed at determining why there are inequities in healthcare. “I’m working on a series of grants that will fund research in health equity to better understand disparities in specific populations,” he says. “I also advise leadership on policy and initiatives, where I hope to ultimately contribute to improved healthcare outcomes for all communities.”
Mark Adams laughs when asked if his parents are proud. “They’ve always been supportive,” he says. “I think they feel I’ve landed on my feet pretty nicely after dropping out of med school. They wanted us to aim for the top, but they also wanted us to be happy. They know I’m doing important things.”
DMT & Associates is a New York City based boutique, African-American owned, law firm that is dedicated to client advocacy, and providing Innovative Legal Solutions to our clients. Our attorneys represent clients in complex commercial litigation, business disputes, and commercial transactions. For more information or to contact our firm, visit www.dmtalaw.com or call (646) 989-8110.