Having experienced many models of healthcare delivery systems, MBA graduate Omar Al Rais finds both hope and room for improvement in the U.S. system. His personal story shaped his career.
Raised between the Middle East and the U.S., he and his family returned to Baghdad early in his childhood. There, he attended medical school before moving to Jordan. While he continued his training as a physician in Jordan, he began to question his career path. He moved into researching responses to chemotherapy for colon cancer treatments, building on his interest in pharmacology. From Jordan, he followed his parents back to the U.S., where they settled in Alaska. He was divided between continuing his education in pharmacy or pursuing the path of clinical medicine again. However, helping his parents obtain health insurance sent him on a new path.
This was around the passage of the ACA, and Omar learned that medical vocabulary like “pre-existing condition” could exclude one from obtaining insurance. This struck him as not being very human-centered, and he wondered how this could be happening in a country like the U.S. He wondered “Is there even a system of healthcare in the U.S.?” and the realization of how much who pays for care impacts access and quality. He wanted to know how the system worked and how to create change.
This led him to Oregon and The Healthcare MBA. He found that the curriculum and his goals built upon his past education and clinical experiences. Throughout his time as a student, he learned from his diverse classmates and felt supported by them in his journey. During this time, he became interested in non-profits, seeing them as agents of change.
He started volunteering at Cascade AIDS Project. It was there he fully-transitioned from an interest in pursuing a career in pharmacy to non-profit work. He joined the team as an employee, working to increase equity through outreach, focusing on immigrants and refugees. As a gay man who had to leave his own home due to war, this work felt personally important to him. After graduation, he was ready to continue his professional growth.
In late 2019, Omar joined Planned Parenthood in a quality improvement position. As the pandemic closed in, it became apparent that Omar could help the team in more ways. He was soon promoted to and led the COVID response, became the Compliance and HIPAA Privacy and Security officer, and led the work to vaccinate employees so they could continue to be available for patients. He credits the pandemic for accelerating his learning on the job and his career advancement. It also had him envisioning how we can work together to provide more and better care. As such, his attention shifted to access.
Working with Cascade AIDS Project and serving on the board of Comagine Health, he learned more about Project Access NOW, as they shared a building. He began to follow their work, and when his dream position was posted, he applied. New in his role, he is looking forward to working with a group where one can see the results of their efforts. He is focusing on how to build a robust and improved work environment so people can do their best work, how to partner with others to achieve big goals, and finding projects for future Division of Management capstone teams.
Throughout Omar’s career thus far, he embraces learning and connection. Volunteering led him to meet new people, gain skills, and evolve his career. He encourages current students to focus on their leadership skills, to enjoy their time as a student, and to build relationships with others.