Dr. David Watt’s medical career has taken him many places: the Ivory Coast, Romania, Mexico, China, Chicago’s West side — and the Wheaton College Athletic Training Room.
Watt, who oversees orthopedic injuries for Wheaton’s sports teams, recently received Northwestern Medicine’s 38th annual Humanitarian Award for his extensive service to underserved areas both internationally and locally. Watt has been practicing medicine for 32 years and is currently an orthopedic surgeon in the Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group. In 2001, he also began volunteering as one of Wheaton’s team physicians.
“Both locally and internationally, Dr. Watt has given his time and talents to help individuals in need and contributed resources to better the communities in which he lives and works,” said Shawn McGee, employee programs manager for Northwestern Medicine. “Volunteerism and community service have been an integral part of life and career for the last three decades.”
Northwestern started its Humanitarian Awards Program in 1979 to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King — the program recognizes employees and physicians at Northwestern Medicine who “best exemplify the ideals of Dr. King, as demonstrated by a positive impact in the community.” Northwestern announced the 2017 recipients on MLK Day, Jan. 20. Dr. Watt shared the honor with four other Northwestern physicians.
“It was a total surprise to me,” Watt said. “It was definitely an unexpected honor.”
Watt had his first experience with medical service work immediately after medical school, in the Ivory Coast. In 1990, he traveled to Romania with a Christian pediatrician who founded a clinic there immediately after the country opened up post-communism. In 2010, he went to Mexico to https://thewheatonrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IMG_0048.webpister sports medicine care, and most recently, in 2014, he traveled to China for several weeks to teach at an existing Christian family medicine practices. Watt also served as a volunteer physician at Lawndale Christian Health Center for thirty years, beginning in 1986.
Watt, a 1976 Wheaton grad, explained his work in the community as an extension of his faith: “We’re all created in the image of God and all deserve dignity and worth, and that’s not often shown to those who are underprivileged,” Watt told the Record. “Jesus commanded us to love your neighbor as yourself, and he’s the example for us of someone reaching out from a different class, a different ethnic group, and helping someone.”
Nominees for the Humanitarian Award are named by their colleagues at Northwestern; candidates are then interviewed by the program committee, which later votes on the winners after taking into account their contributions to the community. The selection committee took special note of Watt’s attitude toward service, seen particularly clearly in his work with an injured soccer player from the Dominican Republic.
“The young player was here playing soccer, but lived in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic,” McGee explained. “The boy was hurt here in the United States, and the fear was if they transported him back to the Dominican Republic, he wouldn’t be able to receive the care and necessary rehabilitation.”
Not only did Watt himself donate the surgery, he also found a family to host the young man while he recovered before returning to the Dominican Republic. Sports medicine has become an integral part of Watt’s medical career. As he came to specialize in it, Watt was first asked simply to see one Wheaton athlete who required special orthopedic care. When the opportunity arose to become a team physician, Watt, who competed in gymnastics for his four years at Wheaton, took it with enthusiasm.
“Working with the athletes and being part of the program, it’s very exciting and fulfilling for me,” Watt said.
His work at Wheaton is volunteer work, and his colleagues here at the college notice the same “hard work and a genuine love of others” which Northwestern seeks in its recipients of the Humanitarian Award.
“Dr. David Watt is an invaluable asset to the Sports Medicine program at Wheaton college,” said Tricia Deter, Wheaton’s head athletic trainer. “He cares deeply for our program and the school, which is evident in the way that he cares for our athletes and donates his time to serve them on game days. He loves Christ and displays it in his service to the Sports Medicine staff and our athletes.”
Allan Prasil, another of Wheaton’s athletic trainers, noted Watt’s “indescribable compassion,” while Mark Demchak commented on Watt’s obvious willingness to share his gifts.
“His love and kindness are reflected in the way he interacts and treats his patients and I believe he has gained great respect through that,” said Demchak, who works with Deter and Prasil as one of Wheaton’s athletic trainers. “I have worked with him for five years and enjoy learning from him when I can because he is such a great teacher of his trade and has a wealth of knowledge to give to those that are thirsty to learn.”
Head football coach Mike Swider has a special connection with Watt; the two crossed paths as athletes at Wheaton and graduated just a year apart from one another. Though they competed in different sports while students at Wheaton, they now work as a team on the sidelines of McCully Field. Watt attends the football banquet each year, often travels with the team and is, according to Swider, “just one of the guys.”
Though rarely making headlines in conjunction with the success of the Wheaton football program, Watt is a crucial part of Swider’s team. When a player gets hurt in a game, Watt is the one who makes the call as to whether or not the athlete can reenter play – and Swider never doubts him.
“If Dave Watt says he can go, he can go. And if Dave Watt says he can’t go, then he can’t go,” Swider said. “There’s an absolute level of trust.”
Swider describes Watt as a “humble, soft-spoken man who loves God.” In response to Watt’s list of humanitarian achievements, Swider simply laughed:
“That doesn’t surprise me one bit. That’s who he is,” Swider said. “It’s never about Dave, it’s always about people.”
Swider’s praise for Watt flows freely as he talks about the man who, he says, “removes all ambiguity and doubt from the sidelines.”
“The two greatest commands are to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself,” Swider said. “That just about sums up Dave Watt.”
Watt himself turned to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to summarize his feelings about the award: ten years before his death, in 1958, King wrote that “We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.”
“He says it better than I can,” Watt said in reference to the quote. “I would like to think that receiving the Humanitarian award says that my success has been measured by the ‘quality of our service and relationship to humanity.’”