Tamara Jordan, DO, MLS (ASCP), has overcome numerous adversities in her life to get to the point where she is today in her career. But her path was anything but straightforward. Jordan and her two siblings grew up in a single-parent home in Flint, Mich. During her senior year in high school, she was a victim of a gunshot wound to the abdomen—an experience that would eventually lead her to pursue a career in the medical field. During her freshman year at Michigan State University, she became pregnant; as a single parent, she attended school full-time while holding a full-time job.
“My experiences were certainly different from most of my colleagues,” she said.
After graduating from MSU with her bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science, she worked as a medical technologist in a hospital setting—but she desired more patient interaction, as she worked behind the scenes. She decided to apply to medical schools, and at the same time, began taking courses in MSU’s online Master of Public Health (MPH) program. She was accepted into medical school at MSU and received her DO degree in 2019.
“I matched into general surgery, since that was my interest at the time,” Jordan said. “Because of my traumatic history, I was interested in trauma. And the path to trauma is surgery.”
She discovered that what she really loved was spending time connecting with her patients on the floor—after surgery. She wanted to understand where they were coming from, what their lifestyles were, and what led them to require surgery in the first place. That’s when she realized surgery was probably not the route she wanted to go.
“I was discouraged with the downstream focus of medicine,” she said. “At that point, I realized I wanted to focus more on the upstream factors that influence my patients’ health—and their lives. Things like food insecurity, diet, and nutrition greatly impact our health outcomes.”
She returned to the MPH program last fall.
“The MPH online platform allowed me to complete the program at my own accelerated pace. I was able to complete the program in just four semesters, even while working part-time and managing family responsibilities in the midst of the COVID pandemic,” said Jordan, who maintained a 4.0 GPA. She graduates, December 2021.
Finding Purpose and Passion
Jordan credits the MPH faculty and her mentors with helping her envision how to integrate her two main interests to find a new purpose and passion.
“The MPH program helped solidify what I really want to do—preventive medicine,” said Jordan.
“My faculty mentor, Dr. Renee Canady, introduced me to the idea of focusing on preventive medicine—where I’m able to integrate public health with medicine and focus on the upstream factors in medicine,” Jordan said.
During her practicum experience, Jordan worked directly with Dr. Adenike Shoyinka, physician and medical director at the Ingham County Health Department.
“I learned how wide-reaching preventive medicine is and how many lives can be touched in the process,” Jordan said. “The positive impact that can be made when medicine is integrated with public health has no limits.”
In her current research associate position, Jordan gained valuable hands-on experience in the Flint community, working alongside Dr. Rodlescia Sneed, assistant professor and social and health psychologist whose research focuses on how older adults age successfully in economically vulnerable communities.
“Dr. Sneed knew I had an interest in how upstream factors can cause downstream problems,” said Jordan, who is finishing up her MPH capstone paper, “Food Insecurity among Older Adults with a History of Incarceration," for publication.
“With the United States having the largest imprisoned population in the world, and with a rapidly expanding older adult population, it is imperative that we identify and address the needs of this largely overlooked group of older adults,” said Jordan, stressing the importance of health equity.
Traumatic History—a Barrier or a Guide
Jordan’s barriers along her path to purpose are marked by “stops and start-agains.” Her words of advice for others making education and career path decisions: “Don’t let your past experiences be a barrier to what you can accomplish. Instead, use your experiences to help guide your decisions on your path,” Jordan said. “Every person and obstacle I have encountered has helped shape the person that I am today—whether it was a good encounter or a bad encounter. No matter what background you come from or what obstacles you have faced, you can still reach your personal goals.
“My goal is to work in an underserved community—like the one I came from,” Jordan continued. “I want to help make lasting change to help individuals and communities overcome some of those barriers that are in place—or even break them down entirely.
“By integrating public health with medicine, I will be able to help patients live healthier lives by focusing on upstream factors that affect health and health outcomes,” Jordan said. “It can be difficult to step out of your own comfortable box to explore a new idea or concept, but when you do, you learn how much you really don't know and how much more there is to learn.”
She also plans to get involved with policy advocacy—specifically in the health sector.
“I want to help make access to health care more equitable,” Jordan said. “And policy advocacy is how real change begins.”
December 16, 2021