Spotlight: Hannah Thompson

Hannah ThompsonHannah Thompson

Hannah Thompson, MPH, a research associate who is pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology and Translational Science in the Department of
Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the UCSF School of Medicine at UCSF, is among those participating in the Graduate Students Association's Career and Research Days 2011.

Thompson presented findings from her dissertation research project titled ”San Francisco Unified School District Physical Education Study (SFUSD PE Study).” Her advisor is Kristen Madsen, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics and a research scientist who has directed clinic- and community-based studies aimed at increasing physical activity and reducing obesity among children of diverse backgrounds.

Thompson works in the Department of Pediatrics at Laurel Heights and takes classes through the Training In Clinical Research (TICR) program at China Basin. The overall mission of the TICR is to increase the number and quality of clinical investigators or those participating in patient-oriented, translational, epidemiologic, behavioral, outcomes or health services research.

How would you explain your research to your mom/grandparent/stranger on the street?

We all know much physical activity benefits your health, but unfortunately most youth don’t meet daily physical activity recommendations. Lots of research shows that physical education (PE) in schools leads to higher levels of physical activity, lower obesity rates, and increased cardiovascular fitness. Yet PE is often underfunded and undervalued, so many students do not have access to regular, quality classes. The purpose of my dissertation research is to identify factors associated with a greater quantity of high quality PE in a diverse urban school district. We will go into 28 schools and look at how much PE students receive, how active kids are during these classes, and how students, teachers, principals, and parents feel about PE. The ultimate goals are to improve PE and student health.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about improving kids health, especially in the school setting. I am very interested in figuring out best practices for reducing health disparities, especially through equal access to quality physical activity programs and improving the nutrition environment.

How did you get to UCSF?

After college I taught PE and health in Oakland for several years. I was really inspired by how much my students were interested in, and wanted to improve, their health. But, I became increasingly frustrated by the lack of school-based and environmental supports in place to help them be healthy. So I went on to get my MPH and discovered I was very interested in community-based research. After graduating I began working here at UCSF, doing school- and community-based research on physical activity and child health.

If given a few sentences to describe your life story, what would you say?

When I was younger, I was never 100 percent sure what I wanted to do with my life. I don’t think many kids say they want to be an epidemiologist when they grow up. As I started working and taking classes and trying to figure it out, I was lucky that I had support from my family to be able to choose to do things I was interested in. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to do work that I feel very passionately about and that, even though it didn’t always feel like I was on a clear path, my life experiences have all worked together to get me where I am today.

What do you do when you have a few moments for yourself?

I play on a few sports teams here in San Francisco and love spending time outdoors with my friends. I am a big fan of bad jokes and it doesn’t take much to make me laugh. I also love to travel, but haven’t been able to recently. One of my sisters just moved to India, so I’m hoping to visit her there this summer.

What is the most adventurous/crazy thing you have ever done?

I spent a summer riding my bicycle across the United States. Four friends and I started in Seattle, Washington, and, 4,060 miles later, we finished in Delaware. It was definitely one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In ten years I see myself working in either the university or community setting doing research and evaluation to help improve youth health.

Editor’s note: This interview first ran in Synapse on Feb. 17, 2011. To read more profiles of interesting people, visit Synapse online.