Dave Dhat is not the easiest guy with whom to schedule an interview. Busy doing his obstetrics/gynecology rotation as a third-year medical student at McMaster University, he’s constantly being called out to hone his delivery skills.
We finally connect by phone after three baby deliveries in one day on his part, and although he’s tired, he’s full of enthusiasm for his former university, the University of the Fraser Valley. It was UCFV when he attended, starting in 1998, and ending in 2000, when he earned an Associate of Science degree. In fact, he and all four of his siblings (Manjinder, Rob, Neelam, and Mandeep) got their start at UFV in areas such as science, engineering, general studies, and criminal justice before going on to further professional studies and successful careers.
“We were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get off to a great start locally,” says Dhat, who grew up in Chilliwack and attended Chilliwack Senior. “The quality of education was second to none, and UFV provided a great bridge to wherever we wanted to go. Our family owes a tremendous amount to UFV.”
It’s been a circuitous route to medical school for Dhat, who initially earned his Associate in Science degree over two years at UFV before transferring to complete an engineering degree at the University of Victoria. He then worked as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley (near San Francisco, California). Returning to the Lower Mainland, he ran his own trucking company for a couple of years.
It may have taken him a while to turn to medicine, but it’s not surprising that he did. Dave’s life has been transformed by his experiences working with the Dhata Foundation, a family-run charity that seeks to eliminate curable blindness by providing free access to preventive exams and surgical care for impoverished people living in the Punjab, India.
The Dhata Foundation started as a small-scale project funded by Dave’s parents, Surinder and Avtar Dhat, who encouraged their children to get involved too.
“My parents were visiting their homeland of India and my mum, who is a nurse, noticed that so many people seemed to be suffering from cataracts, which can be easily cured,” Dave says. “They heard that some physicians were working to help people for free and decided to find a way to help the doctors continue their charitable work.
“They talked to the physicians about the idea of establishing an annual eye camp, which would be open to anyone. Then they talked to all of us kids, asking us if they should go ahead. We all agreed it was a good cause, and despite the fact that we were young adults – some of us students – without much spare cash, we came together with enough money for the first camp. Once we found out it was achievable, we were hooked.”
The Dhat parents had set a good example for their children growing up, encouraging them to do volunteer work and support good causes.
“They taught us to look beyond ourselves, to be thankful for what we had and consider what we could do without in order to help others.”
The first eye camp was held in 2003, and the foundation was officially launched in 2006. It received official charitable status in 2008.
“We started raising money in our own family circle,” recalls Dave, “and then we found that people really wanted to help. It took off by word of mouth. I find that people are more than willing to give as long as they know that they are contributing to a genuine cause.”
As for Dave, his experience of going over annually to help with the camps rekindled a dormant desire to pursue a career as a physician.
“It was shocking to me to witness firsthand how people were affected by easily preventable and curable diseases such as cataracts. In India, many of the people who come to the camps have never seen a doctor before. Seeing them get help had a tremendous impact on me and continues to do so. Restoring sight is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Seeing an old woman crying because she hadn’t seen in 10 years and could now finally see her grandchildren was an amazing experience.
“It can be difficult for Canadians to appreciate how good a health-care system we have if you don’t have the opportunity to travel. Because we were fortunate enough to travel to India several times as children, we could see the discrepancies of health care first-hand and that made it easier for us to want to let go of material things for ourselves in order to lend a helping hand.”
He sees his future medical career as beneficial in two ways. It will provide him with the means to help others financially, and it will provide him with the skill set to help patients through the Dhata Foundation. He plans to practise in Canada but spend several months a year working in India for free.
The Dhata Foundation and the help it provides has been growing steadily, and the family would like to take it to the next level, branching out beyond the eyes to limb care and other aspects of health care.
Although Dave has put in several years of schooling since his time at UFV, he says that the first two years of science he took here provided him with a solid foundation for further study.
“UFV offered great professors such as George McGuire, Tim Cooper, and Peter Slade, who had a true love for their respective disciplines, but who were also dedicated to preparing us to think about science and how to approach scientific problems. For sure it prepared me well for medical school and engineering school. I had an easy time in my further studies because I had the proper grounding at UFV. I don’t know if I appreciated it as much at the time as I do now, with some perspective.”
To find out more about the Dhat family’s charitable work, visit: