50 years later: How basketball helped shape a medical career

When Dr. Don Forrester was a sophomore at Walter Johnson High School, he played JV basketball. He continued with his high school basketball career, playing on varsity until his senior year. The basketball court is where he met a fellow student who, unbeknownst to Forrester, would set him on the path that would eventually become his career. His teammates name was Robert Bonow. Bonow, who was a year ahead of Forrester, had several conversations with Forrester during his junior year and served as a mentor. Bonow suggested that Forrester go to medical school.

“I don’t think I would have considered it without him as an example,” Forrester said.

Bonow, who also went to medical school, was convincing enough to cause Forrester to follow in his footsteps.

“In my senior year I took biology electives and decided on medical school as my path,” Forrester said.

Not only were the people he met through basketball pivotal his career search, the values that were instilled in him from the sport were instrumental in his success. What he learned from basketball not only helped him become a physician, it also helped him become a better leader. After high school Forrester went on to play basketball for Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril at Lehigh University. Despite playing for a Hall of Fame coach in college he felt that playing at WJ enhanced his academic habits.

“Playing basketball at WJ allowed me to play in college so it had a positive effect. It also helped me to develop the discipline to put in the hours needed for academic success in college,” Forrester said.

After he completed Medical School, Forrester worked for the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Sacramento, California for 30 years. He is a boarded Family Medicine physician, he focuses in preventing, as well as curing, conditions such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. He is now the Chief Medical Officer for Switch Health Care.

Forrester did not enter his career through the traditional route of pre-med, instead he took the required courses in science that enabled him to attend medical school. He recommends that students who are interested in the medical field, specifically a physician should do the same.

“I have since come to believe that a good path to becoming a physician is to major in what you like while meeting the core requirements for medical school which are usually minimal (e.g. Biology 1 year, Chemistry 2 years, and Physics 1 year).  The Medical School will teach you what you need to know in the biological sciences and if you change your mind you won’t have lost much time or expense,” Forrester said.

His time spent at WJ helped him tremendously in his career. It enabled him  to stay focused and achieve his goals. The rigorous courses also had a profound effect on him.

“By giving me challenging courses and the opportunity to also participate in extracurricular activities I was able to develop discipline in studying,” Forrester said.

The extracurricular activities that were offered at WJ proved to be more than just a way to help him discipline himself in his studies. If he hadn’t played basketball, he could’ve had a completely different career.