Donor Spotlight: Basem Goueli
“There Is No Ceiling”
Dr. Basem Goueli MD, PhD, MBA, knew by the age of 4, when he first saw a cancer cell under a microscope in his father’s laboratory, that he wanted to be a cancer doctor. Accordingly, he obtained his MD and PhD (biochemistry) at the Mayo Clinic, completed his internal medicine residency at George Washington University and the National Institute of Health, and finished his clinical fellowship and post-doctoral fellowship in hematology/oncology and biochemistry, respectively, and Stanford. He later completed his MBA at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
As a hematologist/oncologist, Basem has touched thousands of lives over the last two decades. He has directed three independent cancer institutes, totaling 17 hospitals and 12 cancer centers, been the institutional principal investigator on nearly 100 hematology/oncology clinical trials, presently consults for 6 pharmaceutical companies, is the national medical director for two Xbiotech clinical trials, etc. He recently started two companies that employ artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the cancer forum; he obtained AI/ML and robotics instruction through MIT’s professional programs. He has a bimonthly editorial series for biopharmatrend.com and has published numerous times in the best medical journals in the world.
What makes such a driven life possible? Basem credits incredible mentors, diligence, his parents, his heart, high expectations… and debate!
Read on to learn more about his memories competing, why he continues to support debate as he pursues his work in oncology, and his advice to current debaters.
“I went to Hiawatha Elementary School and Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis,” says Basem. “I was 12 when I started high school at Apple Valley.”
Basem quickly joined the speech & debate team in high school. “Pam Cady was my speech coach, and she married Joe Wycoff after I left. There should have been an antitrust case against that marriage- I think they went on to win every national championship!” he jokes. “I also had an amazing policy debate coach, Wayne Brinton.”
Basem competed in policy debate, extemporaneous speaking, and student congress. He advanced to state quarterfinals his junior year and semifinals his senior year in policy, and was a two-time national qualifier and national finalist in Student Congress in his senior year, as well as a finalist at Catholic Nationals.
What he remembers, much more than the rounds won or lost, is his time spent with classmates and competitors, especially Sanjay Kumar and Brandon Lujan.
“Sanjay Kumar, who attended Roseville, is a tremendous orator and speaker, and that came from what he did in high school. He was two-time national debate champion and two-time state champion in policy. He was second in the country in extemporaneous speaking. He’s now a revered scientist and full professor at UC-Berkeley. Brandon is an expert in ophthalmology and a professor at UCSF. He was articulate and a great debater, and you knew he’d be successful just watching him debate- not just successful in the sense of letters behind his name. You knew he’d control his own destiny. Debate gave him the tools that he needed to do that.”
Being friends with Sanjay and Brandon through debate didn’t just push Basem to be a better debater. It pushed him to work harder toward his other goals, too.
“It helps to be surrounded by talented people, and debate attracts talented people,” Basem explains. “When people like Sanjay and Brandon are your friends you can’t help but strive to be great.”
In fact, Basem, Sanjay, and Brandon continued their connection, attending the University of Minnesota together and going through the process of applying to medical school with one another’s support. Basem went on to complete his MD/PhD at the Mayo Clinic, Sanjary went on to do his MD/PhD at Johns Hopkins University, and Brandon did his MD training at Harvard.
“Those guys are still a part of my heart.”
How Debate Skills Connect With Cancer Care
The connection between debate and politics, or debate and law, seems obvious. How can debate experience help a student become an award-winning doctor and CEO like Basem?
“Debate, for me, was groundbreaking and revolutionary in my career. It helps with your oratory skills, which obviously pervades everything you do. It also gives you a refined thought process”.
Basem draws a parallel to another classic Type A scholar: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter.
“One of my physician’s assistants told me that I remind her of Hermione, who says, ‘I’m highly logical, which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.’ Debate gives you a thought construct to assimilate information in an elegant fashion. That’s priceless. That thought process allowed me to win a lot in life, not just in rounds – to be the #1 student, to write grants, to conceive business plans properly. When all is said and done, that’s what debate was for me.”
Basem’s Advice? Control Your Own Destiny
Basem shared his advice with current debaters.
“My favorite quote in life is from William Jennings Bryan when he says, ‘Destiny is no matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice. It’s not a matter of what happens, it’s a matter of what you make happen.’ The sooner you take the steps needed to control your own destiny as much as possible the better. To this end, you need to dream BIG.
“My singular mission in life has always been to touch as many lives as I can before I die. As a cancer doctor I was helping people on a one-on-one basis every single day, but I became dissatisfied when I realized it wasn’t enough. Accordingly, I started CancerClarity and CancerLight with a very big dream in mind, intending to touch billions of lives in the shortest time frame possible.
I want debaters to realize that they can achieve anything. All that is required is opportunity, diligence, and empathy. Expect greatness from yourself and work hard to achieve it. Optimize your potential, whatever that may be, by dreaming big, surrounding yourself with tremendous people, and staying pure of heart. Indeed, when I look for people to hire for our companies, I look at two things, the quality of their heart and their work ethic. I can teach knowledge, but I can’t teach them to care and I can’t teach them to work hard. CARE HARD, WORK HARD. Combine your tremendous intellect with empathy, kindness, compassion, and diligence, and the rest will follow. Use the thought process you developed through debate to assimilate information in a refined manner and act on it accordingly.”
Dr. Goueli knows that we all face unique challenges, and that’s why he’s passionate about helping more students see themselves within the narrative of success.
“When I was obtaining my MD/PhD at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, I tutored dozens of Somali students who were from refugee families. They would come to my house and study, watch movies, etc. I coached their community basketball team. They were all little brothers to me. Although their life had been unfathomably difficult up to that point, I knew they could achieve anything. I tried to instill in them that I expected them to be GREAT. So much of what we believe about ourselves comes down to expectations. If you don’t believe you can achieve it, you will not do so. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
All three of my brothers were doctors, for better or for worse. We don’t judge success by the letters after someone’s name. Nonetheless, the expectation in our family was that you would be a doctor, and that’s what happened. I don’t care what you want to do, whether it be a physician, lawyer, politician, sanitary engineer, custodian, etc. – Do what you can to control your own destiny and dream big in doing so.
A final thought I would like to convey is that I strongly feel paying it forward isn’t a choice, it’s a fundamental obligation of being human. We are all a conglomeration of our experiences, we are what we lived. As such, who I am today is the result of incredible mentors who never hesitated to provide me with opportunity, instruction, and kindness. It’s my turn to pay that back. When it’s your turn to do so, you must pay it back.”
He concludes with a final invitation:
Having said that, I feel that forensics, particularly debate, gave me so much. Once you participate in debate you become part of this unspoken family you always remain part of. All of your readers can consider me part of their family and call on me to pay it forward if needed, but my expectation will be they do the same in the future when called on. I wish all debaters all that they wish for themselves…
Basem is supporting our organization through a generous gift. If you’re moved to join him, check out ways to maximize your impact through a monthly or one-time gift.