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STUDENT SPOTLIGHT – Brent Bates: On the Right Track

Well into his junior year at Western University in London, Canada, Brent Bates ’20 had an epiphany.

As a captain on the varsity track and field team, Bates had helped lead Western to a national championship the year before, and had also placed sixth in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 Canadian Olympic Trials. But now, a knee injury had forced him to take time off from training and competing.

“It gave me the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what I wanted to do after college,” says the first-year Geisel student. “That’s when I decided that I wanted to pursue medicine.”

Born with an abundance of natural athletic ability and an affinity for the outdoors, Bates reveled in activities like snowboarding and mountain biking while growing up in Toronto near Lake Ontario. From a young age, he excelled at hockey and also participated in football and decathlon events in track and field, before focusing on sprinting and hurdling in college.

Bates’ love of sports led him to pursue an honors bachelor of science in kinesiology at Western, with an interest in becoming a physiotherapist or chiropractor. “But with the knee injury (a torn meniscus and chondral lesion of the patella), I saw a number of different specialists, including sports medicine physicians, and the more I talked with them and learned about their careers, the more intrigued I became,” he says.

One such specialist was Dr. Tony Galea, a sports medicine physician in Toronto, who has become an important mentor for Bates. “He runs a very good sports medicine clinic near my house, so I went there to have him look at my knee,” he says. “He gave me two platelet-rich plasma injections, a treatment that’s a bit controversial because it’s still relatively new, but it was effective—I was running pain-free within four weeks.”

Bates began shadowing Galea twice a week that summer, and in his senior year at Western applied to several medical schools in Canada. “I didn’t get accepted into any,” he says. “I was making a pretty abrupt switch academically, which involved rearranging my class schedule and going back and taking some of the pre-med classes that I needed.”

But Bates remained undeterred and credits staying positive to his upbringing. “My parents always said, ‘We’ll give you the opportunity if you put in the effort.’ That was a good way to grow up, because it encouraged me to try different things I was interested in and to put 100 percent effort into anything I really wanted to do.”

After graduating from Western, he returned home and sought Galea’s counsel. “I got involved in his lab that summer, doing basic bench top research. Dr. Galea was looking to patent a platelet-rich plasma preparation protocol to increase the efficacy of osteoarthritis treatments. That led to a clinical trial and he ended up patenting the protocol, which was pretty cool to hear,” says Bates, who really enjoyed the experience.

He decided to enroll in a two-year master’s of science degree program at the University of Toronto, living at home to save money. “My master’s research focused on stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine for orthopedic surgery,” he explains, “and I was fortunate to be supervised by Drs. Emil Schemitsch and Aaron Nauth, two leading surgeons in orthopedic trauma, whom another orthopedic surgeon at Western had connected me with.”

Bates’ lab was in a building attached to St. Michael’s Hospital, a level-one trauma center in downtown Toronto. “There were a lot of opportunities to shadow my supervisors in the fracture clinic and orthopedic operating rooms,” he says. “I also volunteered in the inpatient mobility unit, so I got to interact with patients who were receiving or recovering from orthopedic or neurological procedures.”

He found those experiences to be particularly meaningful. “I learned to interact with patients on my own, asking them about their families, their beliefs, and their thoughts about their care at St. Michael’s—some of the more personal aspects of medicine that are so important in patient care,” he says.

Seeing patients that his supervisors had operated on and hearing how grateful they were for the highly skilled, compassionate care they were receiving was “very motivating for me,” says Bates. “It made me want to be a great surgeon, just like they are.”

While Bates’ graduate school experiences helped him gain acceptance to several top medical schools in both Canada and the US, he was drawn to Dartmouth’s smaller, more personal learning environment, its people, and the physical beauty of the area.

In addition to keeping a busy academic schedule, he is juggling a variety of activities this semester, which include finishing a paper (based on his research) that he has been invited to submit to an international stem cell journal, working part-time at Dartmouth’s varsity strength and conditioning facility, looking into research opportunities related to orthopedic surgery at DHMC, and getting in some hikes and late-season kayaking with his classmates.

“I feel very fortunate to be at Geisel—people have been so welcoming and generous,” says Bates, offering an example. “Dr. Sarah Johansen, an emergency medicine physician at DHMC who is my On Doctoring facilitator, has been amazing. She recently had our On Doctoring group (plus family members) over for lunch, which involved cooking for more than 30 people. That really shows the kind of community we have here.”