David Dadey

Making a difference globally: One student’s path to medicine and research

Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)
Undergrad: Morehouse College, Biology

David Dadey

David Dadey is an MSTP student.

As the son of diplomats, David Dadey has spent time living all over the world. Born in Ghana, in West Africa, he and his family have also lived in France, the Netherlands, Egypt, Brazil and the U.S. That’s not to mention the various other countries he has visited on vacation.

“I really like traveling and learning about different cultures,” says Dadey, who is a fourth-year MD-PhD student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Washington University.

While visiting and living among such varied populations, Dadey noticed how receiving adequate health care was often a challenge. When he was infected with malaria, he discovered firsthand the kinds of resources his family needed to help him get better. He also knew that others around him did not always have access to these kinds of resources. These experiences left a lasting impression on him.

A mind for medicine and research

As he was deciding on possible career choices, his father mentioned medicine. “Originally it wasn’t something I thought I could do,” says Dadey. But the more he thought about it and how much he liked science—particularly biology—he started to realize that maybe this was something he was capable of.

During his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he joined a professor’s organic chemistry lab. “I was very interested in learning what research was about,” he says. He was especially drawn to the real-world applications of research. With an already globalized view of medicine, he says he thought: “If I can learn how to improve the treatment of patients through research, I could potentially make a difference in the management of care in a global sense.”

After his sophomore year at Morehouse, Dadey completed Washington University’s biomedical research apprenticeship program (BioMedRAP), a 10-week program that pairs undergraduate students, who are traditionally underrepresented in biomedical research, with faculty to work on a research project. Dadey enjoyed the experience and appreciated the support he received from both faculty and staff. “Towards the end of my research I was sold on attending Washington University School of Medicine.” So he applied to the MD-PhD program. “When I got my acceptance,” he says, “I was ecstatic.”

Overcoming prejudice

Dadey didn’t always feel such a sense of support and community. When he first moved to the U.S., he was starting high school in Silver Spring, Md., and was placed into the lowest level of classes. At first, he didn’t feel like he was being challenged. He says his teachers seemed to expect no more than the minimum amount of work from him. After a time, he realized he could opt into honors or advanced placement classes, even though he remained one of only a few minorities in these classes. “I’m used to being a minority, having lived in Europe, Egypt, and other places. But I didn’t fully realize how significant an achievement gap there would be here.”

Despite the prejudice he felt at school, Dadey persevered and excelled. He also appreciated his parents’ emphasis on the importance of education and hard work. “I always felt very motivated to be the best that I could be in that setting,” he says.

An interest in the cell

During his studies, Dadey developed an interest in the biology of the cell. With all that can go wrong in the cell, it is a very fragile element. Yet somehow, most cells remain healthy except in the case of cancer, when sometimes all it takes is one or two small changes to cause disease. “It’s a fascinating and at the same time scary thought,” he says. “Understanding how all of that works is what got me interested in cancer. It’s very intricate.”

Dadey has chosen to work in the lab of Dennis Hallahan, MD, professor of radiation oncology at Washington University. There, Dadey is studying how cancers respond to radiation therapy. By examining the molecular pathways involved in these responses, Dadey and his colleagues are trying to develop targeted therapies to enhance the efficacy of radiation treatment.

Mentorship and dedication to diversity

During his time in the lab, Dadey took on a summer high school student to mentor. He has also served as president of the Student National Medical Association, an organization that supports minority medical students. And he volunteers for Washington University’s Young Scientist Program, which provides science demonstrations and outreach to the St. Louis community, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As a minority, Dadey wanted to pass along some of his experiences to others in similar situations to make certain they knew that no opportunity should be out of reach to them. He notes: “It’s important to remember that no matter what people might think about you, where you come from or what you can or can’t do, the decision to be successful starts with the individual.” He says that being a good role model for diversity has motivated him to succeed. “At the end of the day it’s not what people think as much as it is how you respond.”