Abyan Abdisalam is a big-picture kind of person. And that’s not just because she’s a globe-trotting, multicultural woman. She sees the big picture in terms of the change she wants to make as a health care professional once she graduates from the University of Minnesota.
A junior this year, Abdisalam is already spinning quite a few plates. She is a scholarship recipient, an active member of the Student Health Advisory Committee, and an extremely full-time student with two majors and one minor to finish in four years. Her passion is health care, and so she’s getting her Bachelor of Applied Science in Health Services Management, with a minor in public health. Because she sees the value in thinking globally, though, she’s getting her BS in geography as well.
We sat down with Abdisalam to learn more about her and her future ambitions.
CCE: Tell us more about your background—where you’re from and how you got to the U of M.
AA: Ethnically, I’m Somali, but I initially spent time growing up in Cairo, Egypt. My family never lived in a place for more than two years. My father was a physician in Somalia, and he was on the ground every day helping people. That’s what made me think I would one day become a doctor—because of my father—because I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I moved to Minnesota in 2009, and after graduating high school, I came to the U to begin my education to become a doctor.
CCE: But now you’ve changed your focus in health care a bit. Can you tell us more about that?
AA: Being a doctor, you’re helping many individuals with their problems. What I realized about myself is that I didn’t want to help just one person at a time: I want to impact a wide area of people, creating meaningful change that will affect lives for the better. Health is one of the biggest things in our lives besides food and shelter. It’s important to have a system in place that’s going to protect as many people as possible. That led me to want to study health care systems and health care policy. These issues are part of the Health Services Management major, so I was excited to find that degree program.
CCE: What was it specifically about the HSM program that made you so excited?
AA: I remember seeing a flyer for the HSM program last year, and after that I met with Jane, my (now) adviser to talk through my future goals. After that, I honestly just jumped into the HSM major. It seemed like it would be a better route for me because I wanted a degree that I could apply, that would work in the real world. I also loved that the adjunct faculty instructors were working in the field. And part of that benefit is building a network for yourself outside of the University. My goal is to someday have a hand in shaping health care policy and regulation, and I know that the HSM major will help me to do that.
CCE: Sounds like you’re in the right major for what you want to do! And we understand you have a few upcoming projects to help you get some hands-on experience in the field?
AA: Yes, definitely! This spring, I’m actually starting an internship as a project manager with the American Academy of Neurology. I’m really looking forward to that. Then, in the summer of 2017, I’m going to Morocco for a research program I’m participating in. I’m going to be looking at their health care systems and accessibility based on gender and socioeconomic status. When I return at the end of July, I’ll begin writing my research papers about the experience.
CCE: And you’re active on campus, too, right? With the Student Health Advisory Committee?
AA: That’s a really fun group to be a part of. Together we look at health challenges on campus and examine health policies that are not working for students. We then work with Boynton Health Services and students to come up with solutions to change that. A couple of things we’re working on now are an absence policy for sick students and a student health benefits plan.
CCE: Tell us a bit about your scholarship. That’s such an honor, congratulations.
AA: Thank you! I got the Joan T. Smith Scholarship, which is for students who are interested in going back to Africa and helping with development. I thought that scholarship sounded so special, and I was really honored to receive it. Getting the scholarship was more than an honor: it was a relief because, as a student who has to pay her own bills and help out her family as well, it was really nice to have the financial burden relieved.
CCE: What’s the biggest challenge you see in health care and what do you hope to do with your degree once you graduate?
AA: I think honestly the biggest challenge is going to be agreeing on what the best health care system is. It doesn’t serve anyone to keep changing the systems we put in place. More people are going to be confused about it, trusting the government less or trusting their health care system less.
Once I graduate, I want to work in a different country for a bit. This world is such a big place, and I don’t think we have to be limited to just one place or just one culture. Traveling helps you to view the world with a different perspective. I’m still deciding when I’ll go to graduate school.