After working several years in the field of aerospace quality, Allen Archer decided to take the knowledge he’d learned on the job and combine it with his interest in various areas of health care to pursue a career in medicine.
Archer has lived in many places but calls Asheville, North Carolina, his hometown. By the time he graduated from high school, he’d already begun working. He started as a painter at an automation company that built robots and manufacturing machinery, and later worked his way up to a quality engineer in an aerospace manufacturing company before changing directions to pursue a second, more fulfilling career.
Archer became the first in his family to attend college and earned his associate degree at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech). After enrolling to complete his four-year degree at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, he learned of ETSU through a school fair at A-B Tech. He attended an ETSU open house and spoke with Dr. Karen Kornweibel, who encouraged him to apply to ETSU’s Honors College. She followed up with him a few days later to once again encourage him to apply, and he was subsequently admitted to the Honors College on the Midway Honors Scholarship for transfer students.
“It wasn’t just the scholarship,” Archer said. “It was ETSU’s commitment to reaching out to me and making me feel welcomed. It was a good fit for me.”
Now a senior, Archer chose to major in health administration as a complement to his interest in medicine and the skills he learned in his earlier career. He is simultaneously working toward both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field, and after graduating this May, he will enter ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine.
Archer says he comes from a large farming family that, historically, has not gone to college and did not understand the health care system.
“I’ve spent nearly my whole life uninsured and hesitant to go to the doctor,” he said. “I’m not afraid of doctors; I’m not afraid of medicine. I’m afraid of the other side – what is the cost going to be, and how can I know what to expect? That lifetime of apprehension, combined with my experience in quality improvement, pushed me toward health administration to better understand how our health care system is structured, how we got here, and how we can move forward in a positive way.
“I’m going to medical school to become a physician, but I believe the intersection between health administration, public health, and medicine is where I can make the greatest impact.”
Archer is already making an impact through his honors thesis research on COVID-19 statistical reporting. Under the guidance of Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the ETSU College of Public Health, he has been investigating how excess mortality is identified.
“We’ve been using COVID as a natural experiment to better understand how something like a pandemic impacts society beyond confirmed COVID deaths,” he explained. “We know X-number of people have died from COVID in the state of Tennessee, but that doesn’t capture the full impact. Many people have indirectly died as a result of the pandemic. For example, some people never got COVID, but opted out of care for other illnesses in fear of getting the virus. Some hospitals were overrun, so patients couldn’t receive care for non-COVID illnesses. On top of all that, there are long delays in state-level data reporting. It wasn’t until October 2021 that we actually got data for 2020 deaths. It’s hard to be proactive or respond quickly with months-long delays.”
Through public data sources, like funeral homes and newspaper obituaries, Archer and Wykoff have identified excess mortality numbers very similar to state data much faster.
In addition to that research, Archer is a research assistant in ETSU Health’s Institute for Integrated Behavioral Health, which provides behavioral health services to the community through collaboration with primary care providers within ETSU Health’s primary care clinics. Archer has been very involved in the community and played an integral role in coordinating ETSU Health’s Vaccine Clinics over the past year.
“I got to interact with our community in a ‘boots on the ground’ kind of way,” he said. “Without a clinical license or the ability to physically put needles in arms myself, coordinating these events was the most impactful thing I could do at a time when we were all just trying to get through it.”
As a member of the Street Medicine Interest Group, he has also provided clinical care and screening, as well as helped with vaccination efforts, for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Appalachian Highlands.
Involvement in campus life is important to Archer as well. He has served as president of three student organizations, and the former Student Government Association senator and cabinet member was recently elected to serve as the student representative on the ETSU Board of Trustees for the coming year.
Archer stresses campus involvement to his peers in the many mentoring situations he enjoys as a senior and second-career student.
“One of the things I tell the people I mentor is that my favorite thing about ETSU is the ability to get really involved,” he said. “I’ve only been here for two years and have been able to do so many things I probably could not have done elsewhere. The small-town feel of ETSU is partnered with a ton of opportunities. There aren’t many schools where you can just find something you’re interested in, send an email to a dean or professor, and almost immediately get involved in research or various events and opportunities.”
Before graduating in May, Archer looks forward to spending two weeks in Washington, D.C., as a visiting scholar with the American Board of Family Medicine. Post-graduation, he is excited to attend the Quillen College of Medicine on the rural primary care track through the U.S. Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program, which will allow him to begin his career serving in the Air Force after he completes his medical training.