Damon Clines

What are your current health care positions; and What are your responsibilities in this position?

I am a gastroenterologist and hepatologist who works for a private practice in the St. Louis City. I specialize in diseases in the gastro-intestinal tract and the liver. I see people with problems like colon cancer, stomach cancer, liver disease, or hepatitis. Anything that has to do with the intestinal tract is my specialty because that is what I deal with. 

How do you feel you are able to make a difference in this position?

First, my focus is, as it has always been, to try and impact healthcare disparities. You are not going to do that where health disparities do not exist. If you want to go duck hunting, you must go where the ducks are. There are two areas where healthcare disparities exist: in rural areas and urban areas. I grew up in the St. Louis City. I know what urban life is like and I know what urban areas are like. From the moment I finished my residency, I felt the need to go back to where the void needs to be filled in the city: the urban areas where the health disparities exist to try my best to make an impact. And that is what I have done. A lot of doctors like to be in the suburbs, in north or south county. When you look around, there are not a lot of doctors who want to be in the city. I am one of those rare breeds because many doctors who work in the city work for clinics or healthcare facilities. There are very few who are private practice or have their own practice. This is where my passion is and where I am going to put everything I have learned to use. I completed his Residency and Fellowship in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at St. Louis University Health and Science Center, where I am currently an Assistant Clinical Professor in the division of Internal Medicine. I am a board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology. I enjoy my work and patients. We get patients who are not insured, are underinsured, and some who are fully insured; we run the whole gambit. 

Health care is a team sport. Tell us about your team and how they help you succeed.

My team consists of my practice manager, the practice administrator, chief operating officer, and my director of nursing. This team is the real bones of the practice. They orchestrate scheduling, procedures, and referrals; all the things that make the practice run smoothly. I do the “doctoring part” but that is only one piece. You must have everything in place for billing, intake, and writing policies. We are unique in the way that I am the only physician in this practice since we are a solo group. We do have a nurse practitioner. Many doctors will look to join groups. Unfortunately, many doctors of color do not get asked to join groups for several reasons. There are not many groups that would welcome the chance to practice where I practice due to different medical insurance levels people have in urban areas. 

COVID continues to disrupt our work and our lives. How has it disrupted your work, and how are you adapting?

I do a lot of preventative measures, like screening colonoscopies. When COVID first hit, many hospitals completely shut down elective cases. So, a lot of what I do was completely shut down. This made a big impact on the office because a lot of people did not want to come to the office for fear of contracting COVID. For a while, we only saw people who had serious problems. We were not completing many of the procedures we did before the pandemic like heart burn or a little bit of belly pain. It impacted us in a big way. Fortunately, we did not have to lay off any employees, although I did miss a few paychecks. I do not look at my team as employees but rather important assets. To adapt to the pandemic, we adopted the CDC guidelines. In our waiting room now, our chairs are spaced out. We spaced out the appointment times and when they come in there are signs before they come in with instructions on what to do if they have a cough or fever. After every patient leaves the building, we wipe everything down and clean their points of contact in every room. Patients love to see it because they know we are prioritizing their health.

Mentors are crucial to the development of a successful professional. Tell us about a mentor and how that person helped guide you.

To be honest, I embarked on this career after being in the education field. I was a special education instructor. Some things happened that got me on a different track. I was not one of these kids who wanted to be a doctor in grade school or high school. It was not even on my radar. Some life events happened, and some things changed. One thing led to another. I was going to school for pre-med classes, then I was in medical school. I really did not have a mentor perse. While in medical school, I had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Michael Railey, who was the former dean of minority affairs at St. Louis University. That was the only time I really looked to someone for guidance or anything. I have kids that shadow me monthly because it is important for African American kids to see people who look like and identify with them. It important for me to tell kids it is not impossible. If you want to do it, you can. Mentoring is an important part of our practice. 

Do you have a previous position that helped you prepare for this work? If so, please share.

I have been practicing medicine for more than 20 years. I am currently an Assistant Clinical Professor in the division of Internal Medicine. I am also an active member of the American College of Gastroenterology and the National Medical Association. I am the CEO/ President of Gateway Digestive & Liver Center, the first freestanding ambulatory surgery center in the state of Missouri that is 100% minority owned. 

Is there anything about your personal life that you would like to share with the public celebrating your award?

Other than the fact that I have been blessed to have a wonderful wife and a wonderful family that has supported me through all that we have been through, I am honored to featured and awarded for my work in the healthcare industry. I have been married to Diane Clines, NP for 19 years and we have four children: Taylor, Cory, Dione, and Daryl. 

Damon Clines named Excellence in Healthcare awardee

The St. Louis American Foundation's 21st Annual Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards will be celebrated as a free virtual event at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29. For additional details and registration, please visit givebutter.com/2021HealthSalute.

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