Emma Thomson, Class of 2013, Transforms Lives by Helping Americans Access Healthcare
Emma Thomson shows off her engineering ring.
When Emma Thomson was a student in the Software Engineering Co-op Program at the University of Waterloo, her goal was to work at a tech giant such as Google or Facebook. “I was attracted by the brand recognition and prestige,” she said. For her final internship, she was thrilled to be placed at Amazon.
“I was so glad I got that internship!” said Emma. “Because I learned that I did not want to work at a big tech company. No one got to know me, and the work environment felt impersonal and anonymous.”
After graduating, Emma reached out to an engineer at Grand Rounds where she previously completed two co-op internships. Having worked with Emma, they were eager to have her join their permanent staff so they fast-tracked the interview process and soon she was en route to San Francisco where they are headquartered.
At Grand Rounds, Emma is part of a team that helps to demystify the American healthcare system so that people can more easily and affordably access the services they need. “The system is so complex that people often end up with crippling hospital bills because they don’t understand how to navigate it or how their benefits work.”
Pre-pandemic cable car ride in San Francisco.
Making a difference by driving better healthcare outcomes
Emma’s work helps people access the best healthcare providers for their individual situations and diagnoses. “We create machine learning models to help patients evaluate doctors by measuring patient outcomes, as well as doctors’ rates of complications, surgeries and prescriptions,” she says.
“As a software engineer, I do full stack web development, building out the primary user experience that our members use when they log in to the app or website.” says Emma. “My team’s goal is to turn all of this ‘crazy health care mumbo jumbo’ into content that is understandable and accessible to the average American.”
“It’s rewarding knowing that I am making a difference,” she continues. “If you can build trust with people and in the healthcare system, you can drive better health care outcomes. We hear stories of people who use our service and it profoundly changed their lives.”
Encouraging everyone in the community to follow public health protocols.
Initiative, courage, confidence and resilience
Like all of us, Emma is grappling with living through the pandemic. Being far from home and family, she is facing additional challenges as she braces for Christmas on her own. Her Linden experience has given her resilience and coping skills on a number of fronts.
“Even living in a progressive state, it is challenging to observe the different attitudes towards health care in the USA vs Canada,” she says. “This has been amplified during the pandemic.The culture is much more individualistic.”
Emma finds it frustrating to see people flouting the rules such as distancing. “At Linden, I acquired the initiative, courage and confidence to be an advocate in the community and try to make a difference,” she said. She has lobbied the city and businesses urging them to improve, enforce and comply with public health protocols.
Setting out for a 100K ride.
Lifelong love of fitness
She credits Linden for her lifelong love of fitness which has helped immeasurably during the pandemic. At Linden, Emma discovered track and cross country running. “I took a break from it at Waterloo but have found my way back! Before the pandemic, I was racing a lot, but I had to find new ways to stay motivated once all of that got cancelled.”
In May, Emma launched a birthday fundraiser for the San Francisco-Marin food bank to help families during the pandemic. As part of this initiative, she pledged to run a solo half-marathon through the streets of San Francisco.
More recently, she added road cycling to her self-care and fitness routine, and especially enjoys riding outside of San Francisco to national parks, taking in the scenery and posting photos on Instagram. “It’s been very therapeutic during the pandemic. It feels good to get away from the crowded city and to spend some time in nature.” she says.
In July, she participated in another fitness-based fundraiser, this time to raise money for Easter Seals, to help families purchase mobility equipment for children with physical disabilities. “Easter Seals holds a special place in my heart because my stepsister, Quinn, has cerebral palsy and has benefited greatly from their programs.”
As part of the Easter Seals fundraiser, Emma trained for and completed her first 100 km bike ride. In total, she raised over $2,500. “The Easter Seals challenge gave me strength I didn’t know I had. I realized that running and biking in a mask is nowhere near as difficult as the challenges that people with disabilities face on a daily basis, so I’m willing to wear the mask to protect those who are the most vulnerable.”
Her best memory of Linden? “That’s hard,” says Emma. “But it would have to be Nasrin’s calculus class. We were a small, tight-knit group and had a lot of fun.”