September 27, 2022

Kiley Adams: Blazing trails

Woman standing in mountainous area with a bird perched on her head

Kiley's Michigan Answer: The presence of a community that encourages, supports and provides resources for my many “non-medical” interests while also challenging me to become the best future physician I can be.

Kiley Adams (she/her) is from Puyallup, Washington, and graduated from Notre Dame University in 2017. She is currently pursuing a dual degree in medicine and sustainability and development at the University of Michigan. 

Here, she shares why she decided on a career in medicine and how she made the decision to attend Michigan. She also provides a glimpse into her many activities on and off campus ranging from founding a public wheelchair program and researching an employment program in Alaska to volunteering as a Taekwondo instructor for her peers and serving as a Dow Sustainability fellow. 

What called you to explore a career in medicine?

I originally came to medical school with a desire to learn - and to shape - how the medical field can best serve people with disabilities. My experiences prior to medical school in recreation, education, therapy and research for and with people with disabilities influenced my interest in how medical and non-medical fields can intersect to provide full-spectrum care.

Why did you decide to attend Michigan?

I was in a multi-school tie and ultimately decided by going on a trail run up a mountain in Alaska, telling my friends I would not come down until I had chosen a medical school. Part way up the mountain, probably in an exhausted delirium, I had clarity that Michigan was where I needed and wanted to be! In that moment, I trusted the gut feeling I had (from my interview and Second Look experiences) that Michigan was a supportive community, committed to my development as a human being more so than just as a student.

Why did you decide to earn a dual degree while in med school, what has the experience been like, and what advice do you have for others who are considering this same path?

I am currently pursuing a Master of Science in Sustainability and Development! One of my close med school friends and I are pioneering the partnership between Michigan Medicine and the School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), so it is a brand-new experience for everyone. I am interested in the intersection between human and non-human health and like thinking about how food systems, air and water quality, and accessibility to safe outdoor nature areas all collide to influence human health. Even more so, I love learning the tools to hopefully shape those futures! 

What health disparities, health equity and/or social justice work have you become involved in?

Intersecting my interests in medical care for people with disabilities and equitable access to nature spaces, I have been lucky enough to help found a free, public trail wheelchair program. Trail wheelchairs are off-terrain wheelchairs (think of a cross between a mountain bike and a wheelchair) that allow some people with mobility impairments better access to local, unpaved nature areas! In an area like Southeast Michigan where trails abound, having equal access to spaces beyond the pavement is a must, and these chairs help bridge that basic right.

Thanks to funding from the Office of Health Equity and Inclusion and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, we have two trail chairs at local state parks available for free rental. The chairs also help make our medical school orientation backpacking trip, called CAMP, accessible to more future classmates! 

What types of research activities are you involved in?

Not only have I recently been able to research the physical and social health implications of having access to a free, public trail chair, but I also was able to use Capstone for Impact funding to research a novel employment program for people with disabilities in Alaska between my M1 and M2 years. The program, called Youth Employment in Parks (YEP), employs local youth with disabilities to work on trail and park maintenance teams, developing both the hard and soft job skills they will need to gain further employment.

As someone hoping to return to Alaska to eventually practice medicine, having Michigan Medicine resources support both my local and non-local endeavors has been crucial to my career development (and happiness!). The research has also promoted collaborations across multiple states to further the development of employment and recreation programming.

What significant extracurricular activities have been a part of your medical education so far and how have they enriched your medical school experience?

I love being involved with CAMP! CAMP is our orientation backpacking trip which seeks to provide community and support to medical students through both a multi-day trip prior to beginning school and longitudinal programming throughout the years to come.

As a Taekwondo instructor, I also love teaching a once annual med school self-defense course! While Ann Arbor is extremely safe, it is exciting to empower my peers to go for an evening run after a long day of studying or leave a night shift with a little extra confidence and safety for the journey home.

Finally, the University of Michigan has a program called the Dow Sustainability Fellowship, which places graduate students from across the university into interdisciplinary teams to work with a community partner on a specific, sustainability-based project. I have been excited to lead a team this year composed of a business student, an architecture student, an urban planning student, a design student and me. We are co-creating an internship program with the San Francisco National Estuarine Research Reserve that seeks to serve as a pipeline program into estuary sciences for underserved communities in the SF Bay area.

There are currently four other medical students also acting as Dow Fellows this year and serving on a diverse range of community projects. It has been an invaluable interdisciplinary team leadership experience that will undoubtedly serve my future career as a physician hoping to be involved in community organizing outside of the hospital.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to swim outdoors (when the lakes aren’t frozen), trail run, bike, and cook and eat food with friends! We decided this last summer that we are “picnic people” and are leaning into increasingly complex picnic cuisine/set-ups.