During her third year of medical school at Johns Hopkins, Kameron Matthews, ’06, realized that a deep understanding of policy would be crucial for the future she envisioned. “I wanted to be more than a skillful clinician,” she recalled. “I wanted to improve health care on a broad level for a wide community, including our most vulnerable populations.”
She’s achieving that career aspiration in many ways, in her full-time job and beyond it. As Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care at the US Veterans Health Administration, she’s leading the overhaul of medical services to veterans that was mandated by a law enacted last year. “Our office is at the epicenter of the modernization movement related to care for veterans,” she said. “We are defining the systems and criteria to give veterans more choice about where to obtain services.”
In addition, she is one of three fellows selected in 2018 for a two-year term at the National Academy of Medicine, the selective and highly prestigious agency that provides independent, evidence-based advice on health policy. There, she’s helping to define the future of medicine and medical policy. She’s also involved with Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, and for her continuing service to the Student National Medical Association, which is the oldest and largest organization focused on the needs and concerns of underrepresented minority medical students, she was named president emeritus in 2014.
She says that first time she visited the Law School, she knew it was the right place for her: “There were serious conversations about policy taking place everywhere, in classrooms and outside of them. That was what I wanted, and I particularly liked that both liberals and conservatives had a real voice, in contrast to some places I had visited.”
She was a Tony Patiño Fellow at the Law School, and she served as an intern at LAF and at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. A project she began at the Law School, the Tour for Diversity in Medicine, gained significant funding in 2012, and under her co-direction the tour subsequently visited 26 states and hosted more than 3,000 high school and undergraduate students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to encourage and support them in pursuing careers as physicians or dentists. “Minority students get significant pushback when they express an interest in a career in medicine,” she said. “We try to instill in them that if it’s something they want to do, let’s find a way to make it happen.”
She finished her medical studies the year after she graduated from the Law School, completed her residency training at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010, and then held a series of increasingly responsible positions in Chicago, focused on service to underserved populations. She was a staff physician at the Cook County jail and the juvenile detention center, then ran a family health clinic in Humboldt Park, became the chief medical officer of another health center with sites on the West and South sides, and helped lead UIC’s managed care department, before joining the VA in 2016. “At every step, I was learning more about health care disparities and health care delivery systems,” she said. “Combined with the fabulous grounding I got at the Law School, that practical experience has been indispensable to me in everything I’m doing now.”
Among the ample recognition she has earned, the National Minority Quality Forum identified her as one of its 40 Under 40 Leaders in Health. “The 40 Under 40 award was particularly thrilling for me,” she said. “Not so much for myself, but to be in the company of so many accomplished and dedicated people who are committed to making things better.”
Her husband, Mazi Mutafa, leads an organization that he founded in 2002 that creates transformative learning experiences for youth through hip-hop music. “I love the work I’m doing and I love my home life,” she said. “The present is all I had hoped for, and the future feels very bright.”