Gabby Thomas on her journey to Leidos
Illustration: Chris Gash. Photos: Zaid Hamid
Gabby Thomas, who became a star when she nearly broke the women’s 200-meters world record this summer, is now interning at Leidos.
She joined the company’s Health Growth Solutions (HGS) team last week as Healthcare Innovation Analyst.
Here’s how she got here:
In high school, Thomas knew she wanted to study the nervous system. Her interest grew from seeing loved ones suffer from neurological disorders.
Thomas: “I really became interested when someone in my family, who has ADHD, underwent neurofeedback therapy. I saw how much it helped him, and I was fascinated.”
She attended Harvard, where she majored in neurobiology and researched Rett Syndrome, a form of autism, at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Thomas: “Neurobiology is a newer scientific field, which makes it really exciting. Almost everything we studied was groundbreaking. It’s also relevant to everyone. I felt my work could be applied to so many different areas of life, even track and field.”
At Harvard, she studied health policy as a secondary field and developed a strong interest in health disparities. She also grew interested in phylogenetics and how our genetic code is affected by our environment.
After she graduated, Thomas decided to study epidemiology at the University of Texas (Ironically, because she felt it was an underrated field).
She enrolled in January 2020, weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas: “It was shocking and weirdly coincidental, but also motivating because I knew I had picked something that mattered.”
During the pandemic, she observed how COVID-19 disproportionately affected underserved communities, which confirmed her decision and drove her to accelerate her studies.
Thomas: “Certain Black communities were more vulnerable. Many can’t afford to miss work or work from home. Many others don’t have the means to seek care, so the effects of the virus are more intense. More people were dying in these communities because they couldn’t get to a hospital bed.”
As the pandemic peaked, she was working at a community clinic in Austin that provides medical services to the uninsured.
Thomas: “I saw firsthand how the pandemic affected people who didn’t have the resources to get help. When we had to shut down, it was hard to watch.”
Now at Leidos, she said she’s excited about her team, a research and development arm of the company’s Health Group, where she hopes to be a strong advocate for enabling care to many. She said her team has a strong startup culture, but with networks and resources to make real change.
Joanne Martin, who leads the organization, said Gabby is a perfect fit.
“Gabby has a passion to make change,” Martin said. “She wants to use her intelligence, charisma and capability for the greater good. She brings a fresh mindset through the eyes of the next generation. Her personality is incredible, and her enthusiasm is contagious.”
Thomas: “The idea of working at Leidos was terrifying in a good way. I knew I would be challenged, but I also knew I would bring value. I know I’ll bring new ideas that may not be completely feasible, and that’s okay. It’s a safe space to discuss and pursue new, innovative solutions. Leidos has a huge impact on healthcare that most people don’t even realize. It’s exciting to be a part of a company that serves so many in the ways they do. It’s a great opportunity, and the perfect next step in my career.”
Looking ahead: Thomas is on track to graduate from Texas in the spring, when she’ll compete in the 2022 World Indoor Championships in Belgrade and train for the 2020 World Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon. She’ll then pursue a fellowship in healthcare management while continuing to dedicate herself to her career as a competitive athlete.
When her track career is over, she sees herself running a hospital, hospital system or nonprofit to help end health disparities.