Student Spotlight: Marcel Brown ’21 – Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Marcel Brown '21 poses in front of Oregon's Mount Hood.

It’s a difficult decision for any athlete who loves to compete and has excelled in their sport into their college years, but Marcel Brown ’21 knew it was the right decision for him.

“After playing two years of varsity lacrosse at Williams College, I decided to focus my energy on my academic experience—to really delve into the sciences, something that had always interested me,” explains the Geisel first-year student, who majored in chemistry as an undergraduate. “I knew I wasn’t going to make a career out of playing lacrosse. It was taking up about half of my time, and injuries were also starting to take their toll.”

Still, he considers the experience to have been hugely beneficial. “It’s an amazing sport—I had a lot of fun playing, and it allowed me to make some great friendships,” says Brown, a midfielder who loved the speed and physicality of the game. He’d enjoyed playing many different sports (often with his younger brothers) while growing up in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and while attending high school at Phillips Exeter Academy.

“I think sports is invaluable to teaching team dynamics and how to work with others towards a common goal, including during times of adversity,” he says. “I’ve been able to apply many of those lessons learned both as a student and in my research.”

While at Williams, Brown worked in a basic science research laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, studying the molecular mechanisms underlying pulmonary arterial hypertension. By his senior year, he’d ruled out pursuing a PhD in favor of applying to medical schools, and began looking for a job that would provide him with clinical research experience.

After graduating, he landed a position that turned out to be a great fit—appealing to his strong interests in athletics, medical science, and working with people—as a clinical research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital under the supervision of cardiologist Aaron Baggish, MD. Baggish directs the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Mass General and also serves as team physician for organizations such as U.S. Soccer, Harvard University Athletics, the New England Patriots and Boston Bruins, and is medical director for the BAA Boston Marathon.

“My research with Dr. Baggish has primarily focused on the effects that different types of exercise have on the heart,” Brown explains. “For example, we’ve looked at anaerobic training and subsequent hypertrophy (thickening of the heart) in college football players, and the changes that occur in the cardiovascular system of runners when they train for a marathon. Most recently, one of our projects looked at providing appropriate exercise guidelines for patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder that puts individuals at increased risk of ventricular arrhythmias and heart attacks.”

The work has also included testing EKGs as a triage tool at the Boston Marathon, conducting altitude studies at an Olympic training site, and even international research. Last year, he travelled to the Copper Canyon area of Mexico for a week to study the Sierra Tarahumara (Rarámuri) people, whose feats of long-distance running were documented in the best-selling book Born to Run. “It was a very cool trip; the Tarahumara maintain a subsistence farming lifestyle with a lot of physical activity, and they stay remarkably healthy as they age,” says Brown, who is a global health fellow at the Dickey Center at Dartmouth.

Collectively, the experiences affirmed his desire to pursue medicine, and Geisel was on his radar from the very beginning. “I’d gotten to know the Dartmouth community through my lacrosse recruiting process, and also through my wife Margo (a Dartmouth undergrad), since we dated while in college,” says Brown. “I just loved the environment and saw the small size of Dartmouth and Geisel as a great asset, one that would promote a lot of meaningful collaboration.”

To Brown, it’s important that opportunities for collaboration not only extend across medical specialties like cardiology and orthopaedics (two areas of particular interest to him), but also across Dartmouth campuses. “I’m excited to be in a place that is committed to improving healthcare delivery and the business of medicine, and to have access to institutions like TDI and Tuck,” he says. “I hope I can contribute positive change, both in the practice and delivery of medicine in the future.”

For now, he is fully enjoying his first year in Hanover, balancing his busy academic schedule with activities like weekly fellowship meetings, discovering new trails for running, Monday night hockey league games, and his time at home with Margo.

“I really like it here at Geisel,” says Brown. “The professors are interested and invested in our success and making sure we not only learn but understand the material. That just shows the commitment they have to us as students. You feel like your work matters, and that your learning matters.”