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Coby Cates sitting inside of Valley Library

Seeing a void, student establishes award-winning medical club

By Ariella Wolf

Coby Cates, BioHealth Sciences major

During his last year at Oregon State University, BioHealth Sciences major Coby Cates founded and presided over the Pre-SOMA (Student Osteopathic Medical Association) club. During the formative period, Coby consulted with medical students at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) in Lebanon, Oregon, and even shared his insights to help students at the University of Oregon establish its own chapter.

Currently, the club offers educational programs and hands-on experiences to more than 50 students. For example, the club also hosts students from community colleges who are interested in osteopathy and partners with COMP-Northwest for different education and meet-and-greet networking events. Due to Coby's dedication and hard work, the OSU Pre-SOMA Club was recognized as the Chapter of the Year during the National Student Osteopathic Medical Association Convention held in Washington, DC in spring 2018.

Coby decided to establish a pre-SOMA chapter at OSU after he found that “some undergraduate students stigmatized osteopathic medicine as ‘less than,' or as ‘less prestigious’ than an MD.” He knew these perceptions to be false because of his own observations and experiences with osteopathic medicine. So he set out to give a voice to students interested in the field as well as “provide students with opportunities to interact with professionals and connect with D.O. (osteopathic doctor) med schools.

Serving in a leadership position gave Coby student development opportunities: He learned to be comfortable speaking to large groups and improved his communication skills and multitasking abilities as he juggled education, work, and club responsibilities.

“I had to learn long-term planning, time management, coordination with others, and paying attention to details," said Coby.

When asked how he managed everything while remaining calm, Coby smiled and conceded that all these responsibilities could lead to burnout. So, he “had to learn how to balance school, work, and club duties with some downtime.” Developing these skills now will serve him well in medical school and later as a medical practitioner.

Coby’s passion for medicine began when his grandfather suffered two heart attacks and had two open heart surgeries within a two-week span. That tragic ordeal made a profound impression on his young mind. He was fascinated by the lifesaving pacemaker they implanted in his grandfather.

During high school, his uncle, who knew of Coby's interest in medicine, offered Coby the opportunity to volunteer in a free medical clinic.

“Seeing my uncle use osteopathic manipulations was very cool. I wanted to learn more about it.”

A move to Montana to live with and assist his aging grandparents motivated him to further reflect on his future. Later, Coby moved to Alaska to work in the fishing industry and save money for college. While in Alaska he had to transport a colleague to the hospital where he developed a personal relationship with the attending doctor and learned a great deal from him.

"Because of him, medicine became the clear profession for me. I became a certified phlebotomist so I could work in the hospital, which provides me with further opportunities to have relationships with physicians and learn more about the profession," said Coby.

Coby eventually transferred to OSU because of its strong reputable science program and the rigor of courses. BioHealth Sciences was an easy and natural choice.

"I wanted to get the best knowledge so I was well prepared for medical school. As a transfer student, who came in with many credits completed, I wanted to find a major where medical education is clearly part of the curriculum and where my previously completed courses can fit well with the curriculum.”

Coby has put in a tremendous amount of hard work in his journey towards a career in medicine.

"It is automatically assumed that pre-med students are super smart. People might be surprised to learn how much time I dedicated to my studies, how many hours I spent in the library, and the focus it took to succeed," said Coby, who goes fishing to relax and fight off stress.

Recently, Coby was hired as a phlebotomist for Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in Lebanon, Oregon.

Coby aspires to make an impact by staying positive and becoming the kind of physician who treats patients holistically as individuals, rather than one who merely treats their symptoms and to provide the best quality of care possible. He hopes to stay passionate about health care and continue to be a leader.

“By leadership, I mean I want to continue to be a good person, provide great experiences for people, talk and advise people. And pay it forward—help future osteopathic pre-med students on their path to success," Coby said.

With his leadership skills, dedication to service and work ethic, Coby is well positioned to make a difference in the field of medicine.

Related article: Pre-osteopathic student club earns national honors in its first year.