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MLS Student Dedicated to Improving Quality of Life for All Citizens


The Cooper-Young neighborhood in Memphis has historic landmark status, thanks to the work of its Landmarks Committee, which is chaired by Robert Hatfield, a Medical Laboratory Science student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Hatfield settled into the neighborhood while working in the information technology field. He said he feels “really plugged in” to Memphis and proud to have been a part of the project as a volunteer board member of the Cooper-Young Community Association. With the adoption of the historic overlay, the neighborhood can ensure the character of Cooper-Young is being maintained by developers and builders.

“The built environment affects behavior,” Hatfield said. “We have a community built with lots of front porches, a pedestrian focus, and that creates a nice sense of community.”

As a member of the Cooper-Young Community Association, Robert Hatfield is part of the group of individuals working with Commute Options Memphis to host “Bus Bunch” rides this month to help Memphians learn how to use the bus routes. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

That sense of community is also what he enjoys the most as a student in the College of Health Professions.

“I love our Clinical Laboratory Sciences program. It’s small, and we have 12 people in our class,” Hatfield said. “I know everybody in my class. We have gone through it all together. We text each other, and that’s a really great thing. You also get such great one-on-one time with faculty.”

Hatfield says he was introduced to the medical laboratory when he did IT work for the Raleigh Group Pediatric Clinic. He took the position in an effort to get into medical school, while earning prerequisites at the University of Memphis.

“The laboratory is so important to the whole system of health care, but it kind of flies under the radar,” Hatfield said. “The more I looked into the program, the more interested I became in working in a laboratory. The modern laboratory really has a lot of the information technology component to it.”

With encouragement from several colleagues, Hatfield decided to combine his love of technology with the sciences and enrolled in the MLS program at UTHSC.

As a UTHSC student, he served on the Development Committee for the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The QEP is a multiyear commitment that focuses on improving student learning and behavior. He lobbied for the focus of UTHSC’s plan to be the social determinants of health, issues he said he is exposed to daily, while riding the bus.

“I challenged myself last year to take the bus for one week,” Hatfield said. “For me, the social determinants of health is an academic abstract idea that you may be removed from. One thing I’ve found is you get to see it firsthand on the bus. You overhear people riding the bus and struggling with mobility, such as wheelchair access, and overhear people talk about finances.”

Hatfield is also the president of the MLS Class of 2019. He is working on an initiative with the Student Government Association Executive Council and campus administrators concerning mobility implementation for the campus.

He said his passion for quality public transportation, as well as his daily bus commute, exposed him to the many social and economic conditions affecting the health of Memphians.

“If you can throw money at a problem, one that touches everything, mobility and transportation is an issue,” Hatfield said. “It directly impacts your access to education, opportunities for work, and reliable health care. My personal experience working in the pediatric clinic and seeing people struggle to get out there, get to their appointments on reliable transportation, and just my experience riding the bus in the last year, it’s such a tangible way to really become more empathetic as a health care provider.”

His goal through the initiative is to provide bus passes for students, so they can ride the bus more often, and thus become more aware of the hardships faced by their neighbors and more empathetic health care providers and advocates for improving transportation and health care access.

“Part of my every day, when I think about things either as a community association member, a student at UTHSC, or a citizen of Memphis, I think about what do I want Memphis to look like as a city,” Hatfield said. “I’ve really appreciated my time at UTHSC, because you can get here and if you want things to happen, you can get involved, learn to navigate it, and hopefully influence it a little bit and nudge this huge institution into a new direction.”

Leading the Commute Challenge

Hatfield has been vocal about informing the campus about this month’s Commute Options Memphis Commute Challenge. The initiative promotes walking, bicycling, or carpooling to campus in order to win points by logging trips into the RideAmigos app. Participants in the challenge are eligible to win prizes.

Through his involvement with the Cooper-Young Community Association, Hatfield is also part of the team hosting “Bus Bunch” rides this month to help Cooper-Young residents who commute to UTHSC or the Memphis Medical District learn how to navigate the bus routes. Participants who join one of the “Bus Bunch” rides will receive their bus fare courtesy of Commute Options Memphis.

This story is from the most recent issue of Health Professions magazine.

Robert Hatfield recently wrote an opinion column in the Daily Memphian on the importance of a reliable public transit system. Read the column here: