Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of outstanding spring 2020 graduates.
Before Oumou Bah ever stepped foot on Arizona State University’s campus, her college career was basically planned out for her.
The Avondale resident was going to be a nurse; that’s the direction her family was nudging her. Given her own interest in health care and desire to advocate for people, Bah decided to pursue nursing.
However, a year in she started to feel a disconnect. That feeling, coupled with the fact that the program was so academically competitive, had her reexamining if she was on the right path.
“I eventually realized I was not happy in the major that I was in. I had a conversation with my parents telling them I wanted to switch my major,” Bah said.
About that time she discovered the Bachelor of Science in Health Care Compliance and Regulations, which seemed like a perfect mix of health care and law. An added bonus, the degree was in her same college, the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.
She made the switch and soared. In fact, Bah became the first health care compliance and regulations student to complete a Barrett, The Honors College thesis, which was no easy task.
“It was a bit difficult since I was the first. There wasn’t a lot of guidance because all of the information was nursing student-based. I had to figure out which professors to reach out to and who could actually help with this and find an idea for my thesis that would be appropriate,” she said.
Bah didn’t see that as a setback. Instead, she says it motivated her and helped her work even harder. With no precedence, Bah was able to blaze her own trail while also setting up the infrastructure for others.
“I looked at it like, I have to make an amazing pathway for students to come,” said Bah.
In addition to being an honors student, Bah was involved in several student organizations, worked as an Edson College Community Assistant and was part of the effort to bring the Black Student Union back to the Downtown Phoenix campus.
“With college, you have to make the best of it. In order to do that, you have to engage with whatever is being offered to you,” she said.
It’s good advice from the soon-to-be college graduate. Next up for Bah is graduate school, where she’ll study law.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I initially wanted to go into the field of law because I wanted to be an advocate for people’s rights. However, I was fascinated by the health care field and with the push and encouragement from my family, I went into nursing. In my sophomore year, I was in the midst of an emotional breakdown of feeling like I was trying to please everyone but myself. I found myself not happy with where I was in life because I lacked motivation and passion for my major. I took time to self-reflect and started searching for majors that matched my interest in health and law. I came across health care compliance and regulations and the brief description for the major immediately hooked my interest! It stated that the major will help prepare individuals to ensure patient safety and advocate for proper ethical and legal decisions. From reading that, I knew that I had found the major that best aligned with my interests, and the following day I scheduled an appointment to switch my major!
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I was shocked to learn about the prevalence of health care fraud. In my HCR 261 course, I wrote a case study on a nonprofit health care organization called Horison’s Unlimited whose CEO was found guilty of health care fraud and kickbacks. The CEO had falsified patient records, conducted unnecessary procedures on patients, and would charge state Medicare for office visits when truly the patients would have unlicensed doctors dispense opioid medication to them.
I have always had a positive perception of health care organizations so I was shaken to my core to read that these types of deceptive and unjust actions were occurring. Hearing about fraud cases where greed outweighed the level of care provided to patients made me realize the importance of having individuals in health care compliance. I started to value and respect the field of health care compliance and understood the importance of enforcing rules and regulations to ensure quality patient care.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: The most important lesson that I have learned while at ASU was from Caryn Unterschuetz, internship coordinator and clinical associate professor at Edson College. Professor Unterschutez has had various educational and life pursuits and she once told me to follow my passions and keep an open mind to new experiences. Her background and advice resonated with me because it put life into perspective. I constantly find myself wanting to pursue different pathways in life and being overwhelmed with figuring which pathway to take. However, Professor Unterschuetz’s advice made me realize that I can pursue as many pathways as I want and to just remember to follow my heart and try as many new experiences as possible. Due to this, I ended up taking her internship course and found an internship that I originally would not have pursued but I ended up enjoying the experience that came with it.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF! Figure out your strengths and weaknesses, your passions and hobbies, your work ethic, your learning style, your goals and aspirations, and above all what you want in life. College is a great time for self-exploration and figuring out what you want in life so please take the time to do so. Especially since in college you have peers around you that are doing the same and you have the resources and staff members that are available to help you. And remember that knowing yourself is a process and everyone moves at their own pace. So focus on yourself and your growth and try not to compare yourself to anyone else!
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would want to solve the problem of health disparities within low-income communities. Individuals within these communities face a lack of access to health care and health insurance coverage and have a higher risk of illness and mortality. I would want to use the money to implement programs that address the health care needs of these communities and ensure that individuals within these communities are receiving proper care. Health care is a right and health equity needs to be achieved.