Mentor Spotlight: Daniel Correa

Daniel CorreaDaniel Correa, a neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, has joined The Bridge Golf Foundation’s new mentoring program. He recently fielded some questions from Co-Founder and Executive Director Farrell Evans.

FE: You recently joined our inaugural class of mentors in the Bigger Pie initiative. What excites you most about working closely with one of our young men?

DC: I’m inspired by the dedication of The Bridge Golf Foundation team to the kids. After moving to Harlem one year ago, I’ve been looking for opportunities to share and grow with the community. In meeting the young scholars, I already felt inspired by their connection to each other and the trust they have built as a group. I’m honored to have a chance to join the Bigger Pie mentors and share our strengths, hopes, and trust.

FE: Describe some of your past mentoring experiences?

DC: In Fredericksburg, VA, I had the honor of being a Big Brother for two years. I learned from my mentee and his family the impact that showing up and being a consistent part of a young man’s life can make. Over those two years together we played basketball, video games, and shared our struggles, and I saw him through the middle-school-to-high-school transition.

As a doctor and a former Army officer, I’ve also enjoyed the reward of supporting many students, training physicians, and soldiers. I feel it’s often the case that both the mentor and the mentee grow exponentially together.

FE: Who has been the most important mentor in your life?

DC: In fifth grade, I was a frustrated young Latino in a majority white elementary school. In my adolescent mind, I thought it was easier to act out than to excel in school to spite the teachers who didn’t see me as capable.

My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Toler, called me on the carpet the first chance she had. She believed in me and my capabilities. She didn’t accept my acting out and gave me extra homework and the attention I needed. With an open heart, she listened to my frustrations and offered me extra time after school. Midway through the year she and her husband were tutoring me and mentoring my growth as a student and as a man. Without my parents’ support and the Tolers’ attention, I’m not sure I would have seen my own strengths.

FE: As a neurologist who studies traumatic brain injuries, you would certainly like to see more young people play golf than football. How tough is it for you to watch a football game knowing what potentially could happen to the brains of the players on the field?

DC: As a physician and neurologist, I’m a proponent of everyone staying active and healthy. The most important thing in any activity that uses helmets is that the players always protect themselves. It’s not just football — concussions are more common than most people are aware of. Across the United States most concussions come from falls and accidents. I agree there is growing concern about the impact repeated concussions can have on kids and athletes playing football, hockey, boxing and soccer. We still don’t know the best way to prevent the head injuries, but we do know that recovery time and rest afterwards are essential to a healthy brain.

Sports, arts and music all play an essential role in teaching us the importance of hard work, persistence and mastering skills. Kids should have every opportunity to try a variety of activities. With more options in sporting activities, arts, and music, each person can find what they are passionate about. There isn’t single answer, but I do think that no one should feel that a single sport is their only chance to achieve their dreams.

FE: Oliver Sacks said that as a neurologist it was important for him to “diagnose the disease and to think in therapeutic terms,” but that it was also important to “address the person as much as the disease.” Mentoring young men of color requires a very similar kind of humanistic and nurturing approach to some real inequities for this population. How do you, as Sacks put it, “sit between the biology and the humanist point of view” for your mentee?

DC: Seeing a person for who they are and what they care about, and extending your hand in support, is the only way to truly help a person. This rings true not only in medicine but throughout life. Prescribing a pill alone does not change someone’s health. Getting the chance to hear how their illness affects them helps us understand not only the medicines they need but also what kind of support we can offer them to improve their health and happiness.

To be successful we have to challenge each other to discuss our fears and struggles. I expect that my mentee, the Bridge team, and I will all learn together by listening to each other. This way we can help my mentee and the other scholars grow into their goals as young leaders in the community.

FE: In studies, golfers have been hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) while they were playing to test their brain activity. Better players show a greater degree of EEG quietude than higher handicappers. What would an EEG of your brain likely show while you were playing golf?

DC: Depends on the kind of shot I have to make next. I enjoy golf and the chance to walk the fairway not focused on commuting to work or the commotion of the city streets. By no means am I anywhere near a professional golfer. So, I doubt my EEG during golf would look anything like the focus some of the professionals can achieve. I do play best when I’m having fun, relaxing and enjoying the camaraderie with my playing partners.

Playing golf is a great example of an opportunity to hone a skill through practice and determination. Each shot you have the chance to experience something new, overcome adversity, and then learn from your own reactions. This skill of learning to calm your mind, focus on a goal, then manage your response no matter the result is important throughout life.

FE: What’s the last book you read and why?

DC: I think it’s important to have deep interest not only in your work but in other areas of your life. Outside of work one of my great passions is cooking for others and exploring cuisines of the world. Around the world cultures have overcome adversity to put together sustenance from their surroundings and feed each other. Sometimes I find the history and stories of life and cooking in novels about chefs, the history of cod, or types of cooking. As a doctor and a home cook, both of my passions are focused on the health and happiness of others.

In “Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat,” Bee Wilson takes you through the story of humanity’s developing tools and techniques to transform our environment into a meal. From chopsticks, cleavers, and stone grinding, the book explores how many cultures have turned the struggle of feeding ourselves into the culinary arts.