Heller PhD Commencement Speaker: Taroon Amin, PhD'15

Taroon Amin, PhD '15, speaks at the podium

Good morning.

It is with excitement that I stand with my peers as the 2015 PhD graduates of the Heller School at Brandeis University. The largest cohort of PhD graduates in the last decade! Congratulations – on this remarkable chapter of our academic career!

There are many different roads that have led us to this moment and this wonderful institution. For me, it was my personal and professional experience with the US health care system that made me realize that we need a fundamental transformation in the way we finance and deliver health care in America.

I can recall the first time I attempted to get urgent mental health treatment for a family member – treatment that can be best characterized as sporadic emergency room visits and medical interventions that largely failed to address his underlying mental health issues.

Previously, in my professional role at an urban academic medical center, I evaluated how routine health care services often and repeatedly resulted in patient harm, injury, and avoidable complications  - often due to poor hand-offs and lack of coordination and communication among health care providers.

How is this acceptable in a country where we spend almost 20% of our GDP on health care?

The World Health Organization ranks the United States number one in terms of the most expensive health care system in the world, while ranking among the lowest of other industrialized nations in terms of health outcomes, quality, and efficiency.

The most expensive - and among the worse outcomes.

I came to Heller in 2009 to learn how to translate my passion for health system transformation into tangible action informed by solid research. Not only did I get that but a rich and diverse community that examined a range of social issues – all that sought to advance equality and justice.

My PhD colleagues and I all forged our own path while drawing from each other and our faculty to explore and refine our interests. My peers taught me about addiction treatment in the US, how social media might affect health seeking behavior, and the effect of declining home ownership rates on asset growth for the middle class. And so many more vital social issues of our time.

We grew together as a cohort by exploring the intersection of these diverse topics in which we each specialized. Our faculty mentors taught us how to translate our passions into a research process that allowed deeper exploration. Our weekly doctoral seminar was a time for the PhD students to get together, share our latest thinking, and challenge and encourage each other as we moved through our research process.

During our time at Heller, and particularly during our dissertation process, it is clear that our work and our passion could not have been realized without the support of our family and friends. I couldn’t have done it without my wife, Ashley, who always believed in me, and my parents who set the foundation for intellectual curiosity early in my childhood. This support system allowed us to get past writing blocks, frustration with coding data, and ultimately the dreadful question of ‘how far along are you in your dissertation?’ Thank you for your support.

Finally, as we transition from our time at Heller, there is little question that our paths from this school will be as diverse as those that brought us here. Our training and our community have prepared us for a range of options: academic research, teaching, government, policy, or private sector roles. However, the one binding thread that will keep us connected is our shared focus on justice and equality as guiding principles in our work. Thank you and congratulations!