'21 Okanlami Family Fellow: Justen Lewis

“Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” –Steve Prefontaine

For Justen Lewis, the distance from Flint, Michigan to South Bend was much longer than 210 miles. His journey began in a city with high poverty, crime, and most recently, the water crisis. “I have humble beginnings and although my family did not have many resources, I was given limitless optimism, a strong work ethic, and a passion to serve others.”

These principles led Justen to pursue a career in public health. First, he received a B.A. in public policy focusing on public health from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. This degree was “really important because it taught me how to navigate relational and organizational politics to collaborate and create a positive impact.” To gain a deeper understanding in health management and policy, he received a Master of Health Services Administration degree from the University of Michigan as well. 

Next, Justen put his education to use. He worked as the W. K. Kellogg Population Health Council Fellow in Detroit, coalescing stakeholders from various sectors such as technology, transportation, healthcare, government, food and nutrition, to publish the first State of Population Health Report and manage a health policy council. To add, he also assisted the State of Michigan Governor’s Office with addressing the Flint Water Crisis, and began to design a wellness center integrating primary care and community based resources. In addition, Justen supported area health systems to improve operations and advance policy around access, quality of care, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, he realized that significant change and innovation were still needed. “It is a fact that within healthcare and other industries, those in under-resourced communities continue to lack access, quality of services, and bear the brunt of negative outcomes.

With this in mind, Justen came to ESTEEM as the '21 Okanlami Family Fellow saying, “I want to change the world” and he’s not saying it as a cliché. "When you look over history, some of the greatest world changers were entrepreneurs—King Solomon, Andrew Carnegie, Madam CJ Walker, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Jobs.” What Justen wanted was the business and entrepreneurial acumen to think and execute like these entrepreneurs and address longstanding problems. He says "I have a lot of ideas about specific problems within healthcare and other industries but didn’t have the entrepreneurial skillset to fix inequities and facilitate groundbreaking change. What ESTEEM has given me is a roadmap to ideate and create viable solutions.”

One example of this is Justen’s capstone project with Medtronic. The capstone experience leverages technical and business skills to commercialize a new technology. In Justen’s case, it means expanding the scope of Reveal LINQ—a small insertable heart monitor. Reveal LINQ tracks and evaluates heart data using algorithms to determine if a person is at risk for a negative health event. “My objective is to research new health indicators, prioritize each according to market feasibility, partner with providers to prove efficacy, and define a regulatory strategy for approval and acceptance.”

Looking to the future, Justen is confident that he will leverage his professional experience and ESTEEM training to advance opportunity among the underserved and promote health equity in under-resourced settings. "It's all about making transformational impact and facilitating disruptive change to help those that need it most.

Editor's note: Justen is the Okanlami Family Fellow for the Class of 2021. Detailed information on ESTEEM's Okanlami Family Fellowship can be found here. Says Justen, “Thank you! Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation. I am immensely grateful and will forever cherish the Okanlami Family Fellowship!”

Originally published by Kanami Kitagawa at esteem.nd.edu on January 19, 2021.