Alison Bales, a retired WNBA player, graduated from Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine on Friday, May 26, with her M.D. degree. Her graduation marks the culmination of a dream that began in childhood, and was only slightly delayed by a five-year professional basketball career.
Bales always had two dreams. The first was to get a scholarship to play basketball in college. The second was to become a physician.
Bales’ parents were her role models. Her father, Charles Bales, now a talented woodworker, played football for Texas Christian University. Her mother, Mary McCarthy, a surgeon, is the chair of the Department of Surgery at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Bales remembers the countless hours her father spent coaching her basketball teams and teaching her to play. But she also remembers her mother running onto the court, still in scrubs from the hospital, tending to any injured teammates.
Bales grew up playing for the Beavercreek Stars youth basketball organization and won two state championships playing for Beavercreek High School. During her senior season, she was named a McDonald’s All- American and a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American. That year she earned a full scholarship to play at Duke University, where she double majored in biological anthropology and anatomy and cultural anthropology.
“I chose Duke because it had the best combination of academics and athletics,” said Bales, who devoted 40 hours a week to practice, lifting, conditioning, film, and team meetings. “I set high standards for myself, and I worked hard on and off the court. Being a college athlete sure is a great way to learn time management skills!”
While at Duke, she participated in CAPE (Collegiate Athlete Pre-medical Experience), a year-round program offered by Duke University Medical Center to female student-athletes. The program offers participants a wide variety of clinical experiences that introduce them to the medical field. Bales learned a lot in the intense summer session, where she worked alongside physicians, helping with patient histories and physical exams. She even got to scrub into a couple of cases in the operating room.
“It was a great introduction to a lot of fields of medicine,” she said.
She described her experience at Duke as a series of amazing opportunities. She became the all-time shot block leader at Duke, the third all-time in NCAA history, and was considered one of the best defensive players in the country.
After her senior year, on her 22nd birthday, she was chosen ninth overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2007 WNBA draft. After her first season, she played in Moscow, Russia, during the offseason. During the middle of her second season in Indiana, Bales was traded to the Atlanta Dream, where she flourished. During the next two offseasons, she played in Samsun, Turkey, and then Lille, France.
Of the overseas experiences, she enjoyed France the most. “France is a fun place to live,” she said. “It’s easy to get around, plus French is a lot easier to learn than Russian or Turkish.”
Bales helped the Atlanta Dream advance to the WNBA finals in 2010 and 2011, but before training camp in April 2012, after playing five years of professional basketball, Bales made the difficult decision to retire from the game. She finished her WNBA career with an average of 4.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game.
“That was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made — to leave basketball,” she said. “But I was ready for a new challenge, and I had always wanted to go to medical school. It was just the question of when.”
Like any other medical student, Bales found the first and second years of medical school challenging. But she soon found a group of friends with whom she studied.
“Sometimes, we studied silently in the same room,” she said. “Other times, we talked through the material. The Boonshoft School of Medicine does a great job of fostering a collaborative learning environment.”
During her third and fourth years, she did clinical rotations in various fields of medicine and found that she truly liked surgery.
“I love working with my hands. I probably got it from both of my parents,” said Bales. “I find it very exciting and rewarding to be involved in a surgery to help diagnose and then fix a problem.”
She will begin a residency in general surgery this summer at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, almost exactly 10 years after being drafted there in 2007. Bales, who enjoys teaching and researching, would eventually like to go into academic medicine.
— Heather Maurer