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HMS Student Receives Rhodes Scholarship

By Rebecca D. Robbins, Crimson Staff Writer

Second-year Harvard Medical School student David A. Obert was at an Oilers hockey game with his father last month in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, when he got the call.

“I was sitting there plugging one ear because it was so loud,” Obert said of the phone conversation. “But I definitely got the message.”

Obert had completed an interview for the Rhodes Scholarship earlier that day, and the regional secretary was calling to tell him that he had been selected for the prestigious scholarship to study at the University of Oxford next fall.

Obert is the fifth Harvard student this year to receive the scholarship, joining four seniors at the College who were also named Rhodes scholars in November.

At Oxford, Obert plans to pursue a master’s degree in either public policy or global governance and diplomacy. He plans to take a leave of absence from the Medical School, then return to complete his medical degree.

“I am extremely proud of David for winning one of the most prestigious academic honors in the world,” Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier said in a statement. “I have no doubt that his studies at Oxford will prove to be a profound experience that will shape his life and work.”

Although Obert said he has long been interested in government and politics, he first began to consider a career that combines public policy and clinical medicine while working on a research study this past summer.

Obert studied the health policy of the response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake with a team that included researchers from both the Medical School and NATO.

The research experience, Obert said, was “eye-opening.”

“Here is a project that has clinical doctors … combining really exciting research in the policy field with their medical field,” Obert said. “Coming out of this, that’s exactly what I’d like to pursue in my own career to satisfy both fields that I’m really interested in.”

Vanessa B. Kerry, an instructor in global health and social medicine at the Medical School, was one of Obert’s supervisors for the research project. Before he joined the research team last February, Kerry met Obert when he was a student in her social medicine course.

Obert, Kerry said, was “a wonderful contributor to class.”

“Some students are sort of reactionary when they speak. Others you can tell are brewing a little bit, wanting to put forward their thoughts,” she said. “Dave was the latter.”

Kerry said she is “extremely proud” of Obert for receiving the Rhodes Scholarship.

“It’s going to give Dave an opportunity to gain the skill set and background he’s going to need as a doctor engaged in the community of public policy,” she said.

For his part, Obert said he is eager to begin his study at Oxford.

“I’m still kind of on cloud nine and haven’t stopped smiling since I found out,” he said.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at

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