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November 2, 2023

The School’s medical director reflects on his path to family medicine and SPS.


Dr. John Bassi almost didn’t become a doctor. A first-generation college student from the small milltown of Adams in western Massachusetts, he started out at Middlebury College on a pre-med track, but switched his major from biology to physics when he realized that solving problems appealed to him more than memorizing information. After graduation, he figured he’d become a patent lawyer, and had already been accepted to law school when he woke up one morning back home in Adams and told his mother he’d changed his mind; he was going into medicine, after all. “I expected it to be this huge shock, but she just turned around and said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t surprise me,’” Bassi recalls with a laugh. After earning his medical degree from Brown University and landing a surgical residency, he soon found he was more interested in the human interactions of caregiving than operating on people and switched to family medicine. The rest, he says, is history — almost.

How did you end up at SPS?
The funny thing is, I actually almost didn’t take the job here. … I’d been working in the area for about 10 years, taking calls in the ER and staying up until midnight or 1 a.m. writing notes, and I just thought to myself, ‘There must be something beyond this. I’ve trained for my whole life, but maybe there’s something else.’ I applied to SPS when the position came open, but then withdrew my application when I found out I’d have to live on campus because I didn’t quite get why I had to live here to do this kind of work. Fortunately, though, they called me back, and I realized I was made for this job: I love working with adolescents, I love sports medicine. … I showed up for my interview with my entire family [Bassi and his wife, Julie, are parents to son Chapin ’17 and daughters Claire ’19 and Grace ’21]. That was in spring 2008. Now, I get why it’s so important to be part of the community and to create those connections between students and faculty and staff.

What puts a smile on your face in the morning?
My dog [Luca, Bassi’s golden retriever and the School’s de facto therapy dog], my family, my kids, my health. Walking to campus from my house at the end of the road and coming upon students who are playing their music, and what they’re playing is my music: Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC. … I literally laugh almost every single time this happens. I had a radio show in college, and it just makes me smile to think that some of these students today are listening to the same music I played back then.

What keeps you up at night?
The same thing that makes me smile: the kids. I’ve gotten better over the years at not worrying about [them] so much. … It’s something I learned in my medical training, what you can control and what you can’t control, and part of what you learn is that what you have control over is how you respond and prepare. COVID was probably one of the most stressful professional times in my life, worrying about 540 kids, a whole entire community, how we’re going to get through this, waking up at four in the morning and going, ‘oh my God, I haven’t thought about X. What are we going to do with this?’ But I worked with a team of great people and we came up with great ideas to [develop] the right protocols and really bring some life back to this campus as quickly and as safely as possible.

Speaking of great people, who do you most admire?
I admire a type of person who is humble, smart, diligent and not too caught up in their own importance. We’re all replaceable, right? We’re only in these positions for a short period of time. The people who have really influenced me over the years have been certain teachers: Mr. Mulcahy, my biology teacher from ninth and tenth grade; Jeff Dunham, a physics teacher at Middlebury who was my thesis adviser and taught special relativity. I still keep in touch with him.

Is there a particular piece of advice you got from someone that’s stayed with you? Or maybe a piece of advice you have for the SPS community?
Be honest. Be humble. Be kind. Always be kind. And be forgiving — you never know what people are carrying. As for advice I’d give? I said it in Chapel today: Wash your hands.