Former music major finds harmony in healthcare leadership journey

Alex Fox

Alex Fox, MHSA ’20

Health Management and Policy

For Alex Fox, MHSA ’20, being analytical has always been a part of his personality. Mix that in with being a “little bit business oriented with a sense of doing good in the world” and pursuing an MBA or a law degree seemed like a natural fit.

“But those options didn’t really provide an opportunity to impact other people on a broad scale,” Fox said.

Not like a Master of Health Services Administration can from the University of Michigan School of Public Health Department of Health Management and Policy.

Now, he is making an impact on others by working as a project manager for Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO), an international consortium of advanced critical care providers that's exclusively related to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) technology. ECMO is an advanced heart and lung bypass, long-term kind care solution for people who have advanced heart or lung failure. While ECMO does not directly heal the body, it provides time for the body to use its natural healing ability or for other care decisions, such as organ transplant.

“I think that’s really where the Michigan Public Health experience comes together. You spend time learning theory and background and principles, but then applying those concepts through experiential learning into the real world is vital to being successful.”

“There have been decades of research, it’s been proved that giving your lungs or your heart a chance to rest can actually lead to recovery, or it can be a bridge to the transplant pool for someone who is at end of life,” said Fox, who works closely with ELSO CEO Christine Stead, MHSA ’00, an adjunct professor for Health Management and Policy. “Being able to go on ECMO can mean that a lung or heart ends up in the right recipient body in the future—there are a lot of different applications for what we do.

“Being an international consortium means that we work globally; it means that we think about both high income and low-income areas. While we’re based in the US and we’re spun out of the University of Michigan, we think about things with a sense of who needs this care the most. I think that’s important to consider that while we’re close to the point of care, we are yet one step removed, and our members are both institutions that provide care and individuals who provide care—and then also a lot of the different industry partners who develop the technology that makes us all work.”

Even though the company is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Fox is working remotely in Rochester, Minnesota, where his wife, June Tome, is performing her clinical fellowship at the Mayo Clinic.

Fox said the Master of Health Services Administration Program does a great job of setting up students to thrive in healthcare, especially in the nonprofit space.

“I think that’s really where the Michigan Public Health experience comes together,” he said. “You spend time learning theory and background and principles, but then applying those concepts through experiential learning into the real world is vital to being successful.”

Fox grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and came to the University of Michigan to earn a Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance. He instantly fell in love with the Ann Arbor campus during his audition in the winter.

“My mom and I took a self-guided tour of campus to make sure we really understood what we were looking at,” Fox said. “It was a pretty cold winter day, but even then, this Florida boy wasn't too fazed by a little snow on the ground.

“I felt immediately at home. I had toured some other campuses, but there was no place quite like being in Ann Arbor—I realized that very quickly; it’s quite the experience.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2015, his internship turned into a full-time job in fundraising in the development office at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“I did my undergrad degree in music and knew all along that I wasn’t going to be a professional musician, which is why I came to Michigan in the first place—rather than to a place where I would study music exclusively,” he said. “I came to Michigan for the education and the performing arts experience, and while I was working toward my degree, one of my supervisors asked me to consider the School of Public Health.

“I was considering a few options and then decided that public health might be a really good opportunity for me. I had some patient experiences and felt very strongly that the American healthcare system needed people who understood it at a deep, intricate level. I committed myself to just pursuing health at a larger level.”

Fox said his lived experiences as a patient as “someone with pretty solid health insurance” and no roadblocks to accessibility. Yet, he still struggled to find care—especially in mental health—or providers who “would even take me.” He said that served as motivation to help make healthcare more accessible for others.

“I dealt with depression in my early 20s and that continues to be something that I deal with on a somewhat regular basis,” he said. “That’s something a lot of young people deal with, especially coming out of the arts in general. There’s a lot of undiagnosed mental health conditions and I think a lot of young people in other fields too would relate to the idea that life isn’t always perfect and sometimes you’re dealt a deck of cards that you didn’t necessarily ask for. But it also doesn’t have to be the end-all, be-all and there are ways to figure out how to move forward.”

Outside of public health, Fox enjoys running and cooking as well as reading and, of course, music—”I absolutely go to concerts when I can!

“I spend a lot of time traveling, when I can, to new places. My wife is from Spain, so we get to go to Spain every so often,” said Fox, who met his wife while she was earning her medical doctorate at the University of Michigan Medical School while he was at Michigan Public Health. “Even when I’m traveling for work, I try to find something fun to do wherever I am if I get an evening off.”

For Fox, his life has come full circle as he enjoys “doing good in the world” with his analytical mind mixed in with his performing arts background.