Overcoming health disparities with a cross-sector approach: An ASU grad’s perspective on health care

By

Emily Balli

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Adam Thompson has a long list of interests that, when first starting out at Arizona State University, made it somewhat difficult for him to choose a major. It was this diverse set of interests that led him to pursue dual majors from the university. 

This spring, Thompson will earn two bachelor’s degrees — one in psychology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and another in applied biological sciences from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. He will also earn a certificate in cross-sector leadership through the Next Generation Service Corps (NGSC) at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Early on, Thompson, a Barrett, The Honors College student, had a great interest in biology, psychology, public service and medicine, but wasn’t quite sure how these could all fit together. After becoming a part of the NGSC and participating in several internships in the health care field, Thompson began to find his place and see a path forward for himself as a health care provider who could address health inequalities from a public service standpoint.

“I've really come to value public service and its intersection with medicine,” Thompson said. “My philosophy is that I think all doctors and health care providers, in general, should have a public service mindset. I’ve learned that it's not enough to just be a provider.”

Upon graduation, Thompson plans on returning to ASU in the fall to pursue a master's degree in the science of health care delivery. As an Arizona-native from the suburb of Chandler, he has a passion for serving his community. This passion drives him toward his ultimate goal of using his skills to improve health care services for local disadvantaged populations. 

Thompson shared more about his experience at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I'm definitely someone that needs to see how I am specifically able to make an impact in a certain field in order for it to be fulfilling for me. I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do so I did two internships my freshman year. I found out that I loved working with kids. Many of the kids I worked with were low income and from culturally diverse families who had a lot of complex needs that weren't being addressed. Seeing individuals navigate this complex health care system and observing the many inequalities they face firsthand –– like their communities not providing safe spaces for their kids to play in, or being in a food desert –– really shaped what I wanted to do as a career. I saw that gap and I wanted to be the one to help bridge that gap.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The health psychology course I took definitely introduced me to the perspective of the intersection of health care disparities and psychology, helping me to sort of bridge the gap of what I was doing in my research lab through the Department of Psychology at the REACH Institute. The course helped me gain a little bit of context on why certain health disparities occur for certain cultural groups and helped me to see how programs could be more culturally competent. My cross-sector collaboration course that I took definitely opened up my eyes to how a lot of the social inequalities that we see, not even just in health care but across the board, can be solved through partnering with different organizations. I learned a lot about how we can use cross-sector collaboration as a model to help decrease some of the barriers that families have in accessing health care resources. Through my research I found that organizations that collaborate with nonprofits, public sectors and private sectors were more successful and saw more family engagement.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would say lead with your heart, especially when it comes to finding different opportunities that you're interested in. Don't just do something because you think it will look good on your resume. Find things you can do where you’ll be able to grow and develop as a person and develop your passions. I’ve found that the things I pursued purely to get that experience and not because I was passionate about them didn’t always work out, and I eventually had to move on from them because I didn't feel fulfilled. I encourage students to find what makes them unique and to pursue things that advance a social cause that they're passionate about.

Q: What are your plans after graduation and into the future?

A: Next year I am planning on staying at ASU and pursuing a master's in the science of health care delivery. After that I plan on applying to medical school to do something where I can interact directly with patients because that's definitely a passion that I have. I'm thinking I’d like to go into pediatrics or primary care, or just somewhere that I'm able to help a disadvantaged population or community. I’d also like to do research on population-wide health in public health and health psychology. I can also see myself being involved in politics in the future and shaping health policy. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Expanding access to health care, especially for disadvantaged populations. Making sure that everyone has access to health care and are able to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Also doing more research into how cross-sector collaboration can fit into the health care field as well because there's not a lot of research on the model that NGSC teaches. This is broadly what I aspire to do.

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