After completing two years of his residency, Dr. Joe Thompson, M.D. was on the path to becoming a pediatric, intensive care physician—he enjoyed the technical aspects of clinical care work and had never thought about working in the policy arena. During his residency, however, Thompson realized that he was also interested in broader health care issues. While he was satisfied that he was getting hands-on clinical experience and was able to treat individual patients, he wondered how prevention, funding, and social factors could also affect patients’ health outcomes.
Although Thompson had heard about the Clinical Scholars program during the first year of his residency, it wasn’t until he thought about the broader, systemic problems that impact health care that he applied to be a Scholar.
While many of his fellow Scholars were conducting epidemiological research, Thompson looked at the economic aspects of health care financing and quality of care issues in managed care organizations. At the time, many Medicaid programs had turned to managed care, and there was a strong interest in researching how managed care affects the overall quality of care patients received, rather than the care received through traditional insurance programs.
After completing the Clinical Scholars program, Thompson went on to have a major impact on health policy in Arkansas. He is currently the Surgeon General for the State of Arkansas, responsible for identifying strategies across state governments and shaping policies to improve the health of Arkansans. Thompson is also the Director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI), where he is responsible for developing health policy, research activities and collaborative programs that promote better health and health care in Arkansas. He works closely with the Governor’s office and the Arkansas State Legislature, as well as with public and private organizations to support relevant public health policy topics such as access to quality care. Through ACHI, Dr. Thompson has led efforts in planning and implementing obesity- and tobacco-related health promotion and disease prevention programs and health care financing reform.
Thompson credits the Clinical Scholars program with giving him the skills he needed to have an impact on health policy throughout his career. “The Clinical Scholars program gave me the breadth of understanding and the skills set I needed to make a contribution to the field. It gave me a base of knowledge that’s helped me at every stage of my career.”
Thompson believes that many of his achievements in the policy field were made possible because of the strong and rigorous training he received in the Clinical Scholars program. “I would definitely recommend the Program,” he says. “I think it is a singularly unique Program for the opportunities that it offers: a network of alumni who represent health care leaders across the county, the skills that you learn and an opportunity to creatively contribute to the development of health care systems.”