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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Tom Stevens

October 1, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, 

Tom Stevens is a retired professional hockey player who was born with a strabismus, a condition that affects up to five percent of children. “Strabismus is known as ‘wandering eye’ and essentially means that your eyes don’t align, or work together, properly,” Stevens explains. He had corrective surgery when he was in second grade, and it was deemed successful. Yet 14 years later, he noticed that his right eye was wandering again.

Stevens automatically assumed that surgery would fix his problem but ultimately engaged in vision therapy—which did the trick—after researching his options. “I was fortunate enough to have great resources at my disposal and graduate from vision therapy training within a year,” he says. “However, insurance companies only reimburse for the surgery and do not deem vision therapy as a better alternative.”

Now a passionate advocate for vision therapy, Stevens is pursuing a Master of Health Administration (MHA) in the Arnold School’s Department of Health Services Policy and Management so that he can help ensure that others have access to this type of treatment. While he’s certain about his calling now, it took a while for Stevens to find his path.

Originally from Minneapolis, Stevens played hockey and earned a degree in business management at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minn. He then played professional hockey in New Zealand before working in banking. “While that career helped improve my financial skill set, it did not fulfill me and ultimately led me to pursue a career in healthcare administration,” he says.

His interest in joining the MHA program stemmed from his previous business experience and his desire to be in the healthcare field. In addition to his personal struggles with strabismus, Stevens experienced the healthcare field from a professional perspective when he was living in New Zealand. A teammate was simultaneously pursing a Ph.D. in Kinesiology while playing hockey, and Stevens helped him with his research. “It was at this point that I knew I’d ultimately pursue a career in healthcare,” he says.

Once Stevens made the commitment to return to graduate school, he made a list of potential programs. “I initially included USC on the list because of the CAHME accreditation and graduate assistantship program,” he says. “The further I got into the decision process, the more USC moved up my list.” A campus visit to meet the program director and professors confirmed that the Arnold School was the place for him.

Half way through his two-year program, Stevens has tailored his education with research on the benefits of and access to vision therapy and immersed himself in experiential learning. For example, he spent this past summer interning at Gillette Children’s Specialty Hospital, creating dashboards that highlighted employee metrics throughout the organization and resulted in improving employee satisfaction and turnover. During this time, Stevens worked alongside their legal team during the Minnesota legislative session. “I was able to see firsthand how government pressures affect reimbursement rates for hospitals in Minnesota,” he says.

Right now Stevens is in the middle of a case competition sponsored by Kaiser Permanente. His team consists of four MHA students who spend three weeks debriefing a case that involves reviewing Kaiser’s strategic position in the Georgia market and preparing a presentation for top healthcare executives. They will compete against 35-40 MHA and MBA programs across the nation, and the first place team will present the case to Kaiser’s leadership team. “I really enjoy these opportunities because they are applied, and I love competing on a national level,” says Stevens.

After his May graduation, Stevens would like to take on an administrative fellowship. “These are one or two-year programs sponsored by hospital systems that help groom individuals to be senior leaders of their organizations,” he explains. His informal mentor, 2012 Arnold School MHA alumnus Chase Babcock, completed a Fellowship at Kaiser Permanente and has consistently offered Stevens his guidance and support. Babcock, along with Stevens’ other various mentors, also taught him that the patient comes first when you work in healthcare administration.

After learning so much from mentors and his personal experiences, Stevens now has his own advice to offer. “Don’t let the grass grow too long under your feet—meaning, always keep moving and do not become complacent,” he says. “MHA students have a short two-year window to soak up every learning opportunity as much as possible.” He also recommends job shadowing, conducting information interviews and networking—which he believes is particularly critical for the health administration field. “Very rarely will you find someone not willing to tell you their story and offer career advice,” he says.

Now that he has seen it live up to his expectations, Stevens highly endorses the Arnold School and its MHA program. “My experience at USC has been second to none,” he says. “I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderful group of classmates and faculty.”


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