Tom Ricketts-Tar Heel of the Week

The Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer has named Tom Ricketts, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the UNC School of Public Health, and Director of the Rural Health Research Program and Program on Policy Analysis at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC, as its Tar Heel of the Week. Tom was named to the Workforce Commission that is held up in Congress that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

I would be nothing without Tom Ricketts, certainly not a tenured Professor at Duke, nor writing on this blog. I owe him a great deal. When I was a sophomore at UNC in 1988, I took a class in Intro to Health Policy that changed the course of my life. It was taught by Tom, while he was still a graduate student. I was a reasonably good student, but one who was a bit unfocused. By the end of that class, I had a growing interest in health policy. Tom then hired me as as a photocopier–I went to the library and copied papers for him, but I also started to read some of them and to ask him questions. He took the time to answer the questions of a 19 year old and to encourage me when I am sure he had better things to do.

After my first year in graduate school in the MPA policy analysis program at UNC, an internship I had fell through, and Tom gave me a job working on a research project evaluating a program designed to expand the supply of OB/GYNs in rural North Carolina. This cemented my career focus and I moved into the Ph.D. program in Health Policy and Management, working with Tom for 4 years until I finished my degree. He was my dissertation chair and would appear at my office with approved chapters saying ‘this no longer depresses me; good work.’  (he didn’t want me to get the big head)

If I had to sum up the way Tom treated me from my Sophomore year all the way through graduate school, it would be that he believed in me before there was evidence that such faith was warranted.

So, in Fall 2011, I will again teach Public Policy 111, Introduction to the U.S. Health Care System at Duke, a survey designed for Freshman and Sophomores. It is easy to forget that the little things are sometimes big things, but I will try and remember. Tom did and does. Thanks Tom.

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