June 04, 2024

The new generation of health equity champions

College students in the Exact Sciences Athletes program discover how their work can help break down barriers to good health outcomes for patients. Plus, they get one piece of advice that any early-career pro should hear.

If anyone knows the importance of good health, it’s a serious athlete.

All Exact Sciences Athletes specialize in a STEM area (science, technology, engineering, math), and most are majoring in Health Promotion and Health Equity. So the company hosted a recent round table with members of its health equity team to share how Exact Sciences advances work in that field and how students can make an impact early in health equity careers.

New in the 2023-24 school year, the Exact Sciences Athletes program allows the company to evolve its support for University of Wisconsin athletics while reaching new audiences and cultivating future talent. It benefits the university by potentially keeping its students in the Madison community after graduation and helping it be more competitive in athletics recruiting. The athletes can explore career options and build their personal brands while getting paid for their work. 

Among other opportunities, the program gives student-athletes access to Exact Sciences staff who are working in the students’ chosen field.

Six Exact Sciences Athletes participated in the health equity round table. Dara Andringa (soccer), Phoebe Bacon (swimming), Austin Brown (football), Taylor Gilling (track), and Molly Schlosser (softball) study Health Promotion and Health Equity. Kiley Robbins (track) is a Biology major.

Key takeaways from the discussion included:

There are lots of ways to make a difference in health equity.

Many barriers exist to people getting good health care. Those can include poverty, discrimination, environmental injustice, lack of access to education or safe housing, and other factors. Professionals in the field can work toward solutions to any of those barriers. Some companies, including Exact Sciences, work across many of them.

“We all have specific areas of focus, but we also think about how Exact Sciences can be a better health equity partner overall,” says Amy Conlon, a population health senior manager at Exact Sciences who participated in the round table. “Our whole team always has our eye on how Exact Sciences can do better for all customers and increase access for all too.”

Build foundational skills to support healthy equity work.

At the event, Bacon wondered what classes students could take to help them be more well-rounded when entering the health equity workforce. To complement major-specific courses, Conlon encourages students to explore business training in areas such as grant writing, budgeting, and leadership.

Taylor Larson, a market access manager, echoes that idea: “If I could do it over again, I’d focus on communications and journalism — how to strategically communicate information to the public to drive behavior change. I would also explore project management courses.”

You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do right away.

Alvin Olson, a health equity manager, stresses the importance of seeing where the work takes you. “Even right now, in my young 30s, I still feel like I’m not entirely sure what I want to do next,” he says. “I think that will remain the case for a lot us. We don’t know what tomorrow or the next five years looks like. So we should just always be open to learning what else is out there in terms of opportunities.”

That resonates with Robbins.

“I’m glad to hear that, because there’s definitely a lot of stress around making sure I’m doing everything correctly,” the senior says. “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Therecan be dips. Things can change. And you can explore different things and come back to something.

“It doesn’t have to be just a straight line.”