Olympic bronze medalist Gabby Thomas is as impressive off of the track, as she is on. In addition to being one of the nation’s fastest athletes, at 25, the Harvard University grad is solidifying her place in history and making sure her passion for health is a core part of her legacy. The neurobiology major recently teamed up with technology company Lenovo, and is leveraging the partnership to bring awareness to health access.
“During my studies at Harvard I found so many disparities that are related to income and specifically race that were really startling to me,” Thomas tells EBONY of her decision to explore health as a career. “And I leaned on my personal experiences, and the research that I was seeing around Black people and the adverse health outcomes due to their living environments, or their life experiences, and that made me really passionate about pursuing it further, and then that got me into my master's in public health.”
Thomas wants to be instrumental in democratizing information on health access. Historically and traditionally there has been a mistrust between medical providers and the Black community which Thomas says is valid, given our history and how different pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers have behaved towards non-White communities. Because of this, she asserts that efforts need to be made to battle cultural competency amongst providers. That includes training them to better serve certain communities, understand certain challenges among those communities and address some of those issues specifically and head on.
On the patient end, she hopes that democratizing information will increase health literacy, which, in turn, will establish trust between doctors and low income patients.Thomas looks at COVID as somewhat of a starting point for this shift. While doctors appointments were once viewed as an event that required in-person interaction, COVID-19 pushed the tele-health world far beyond its previous state. “I think that's an incredible advancement that we've made recently,” Thomas asserts. “It gave a lot of people access that they didn't have before.”
Thomas points to working people who didn’t have time or couldn’t make time to go into a doctor's appointment due to work commitments or family obligations as a perfect example. “When you have to go to a consultation and then you have the next appointment and then you have to go to a specialist—all of that it takes time and people have to take time off of work.”
Having the advantage to take some of these appointments from the comfort of your home or place of work has been helpful, particularly for those who don't have access to transportation, or if they do, are burdened in some way during their commute. “I think moving forward I'd like to kind also tackle or address the people who might not be very tech savvy, or people who just might need a little bit more help or need WiFi access in those those kinds of communities,” Thomas says. “But for now,I think this is a great starting point.”
Though Thomas is knee-deep in her graduate studies at the University of Texas, she doesn’t plan on hanging up her running shoes anytime soon. “I still plan on running for a while, but I see myself going into healthcare management and being in an actual setting with the patients and the healthcare providers.”
Her hope is to one day run operations at a medical facility to ensure that the needs of patients—particularly patients of color—are being addressed. “It’s fundamental that someone who looks like me and has this fundamental understanding and foundation of what's needed in public health is there to help direct what's going on,” Thomas says. “So that's what I'd like to do. I'd like to face these health inequities head-on and in person and bring what I love and what I'm passionate about into the healthcare world.”