Outstanding Graduate supports HIV research and prevention programs

Cameron Decker’s dedication to helping others put him on the path to medical school

Cameron Decker.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Cameron Decker has always been passionate about helping others, and during the COVID-19 pandemic began volunteering at ASU’s West Valley campus COVD-19 testing facilities collecting biological samples and matching samples to patient portals before becoming a site operations manager.

“Encountering presumptively infected individuals was nerve-wracking and devastating, but I knew my work there was important,” Decker says. “The testing site was near where I grew up, a medically underserved area. The site was critical to the health and safety of my neighbors.”

Decker’s patient interactions inspired the Turken Family Outstanding Graduating Senior to pursue medicine. During his time at ASU, Decker studied Blue Zones in Greece and traveled to Spain to conduct HIV research, examining  HIV prevention programs to improve patient health and social outcomes.

This work resulted in his Barrett, The Honors College thesis. In Arizona, he volunteered and worked as a medical scribe in the St. Joseph's Hospital emergency department and was a student research assistant at HonorHealth. Decker was also heavily involved on campus and in the student community, serving as a senator and parliamentarian for ASU Undergraduate Student Government and is a founding member of the student agricultural advocacy group Aggies at ASU.

“When I started at ASU, I was — and still am — interested in agriculture and law. I married my two interests to create an intersectional and relevant curriculum and majored in global agribusiness, and civic and economic thought and leadership,” Decker says. “ASU and W. P. Carey provides an exceptional opportunity to explore a plethora of experiences and interests.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: Being an ASU student managing an ASU COVID-19 testing site in my home community filled me with joy and pride. I was interested in directly impacting individual lives and considered the possibility that medicine might be in my future. In my first biology class, I read a paper on HIV in South Africa, which led me to design and execute my own HIV study. While in Spain examining HIV prevention programs, I met a local leader, Rodrigo, who supported LGBTQ+ migrants in his community. Rodrigo collaborated with leaders from other HIV-prevention organizations to improve his target demographic’s quality of life.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know we need physicians who provide inclusive and affirming care like the physicians Rodrigo worked with. Through these physicians and community health advocates, I learned that dedicated health care teams specifically serving the LGBTQ+ community are essential for improving health care disparities in this population. This situation hit close to home. The rural community that I grew up in — where identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community was always met with public scorn — requires a health care team ready to advocate for our care and existence. This realization has become my life purpose. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My ASU experience has been defined by the opportunity to explore many areas of academic and professional interest, which opened my eyes to the struggles faced by many in our community. I observed health care disparities while working at the COVID-19 testing sites and St. Joseph’s Hospital. Being from a low socioeconomic class or a minority group places individuals at higher risk of complications from chronic medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and watching the manifestations of these complications inspired me to become the best physician possible. I hope medical advancements can limit these complications and improve health outcomes for everyone, regardless of their background. This hope is one of the reasons why I considered pursuing medicine. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: During my first recruitment trip to ASU, I experienced the university’s emphasis on exploring interests and innovative approaches to learning outside of the classroom. I fell in love with the philosophy that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I wanted an undergraduate education that would provide real-world experience before graduation, and I was able to accomplish this during my time at ASU.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My research mentor Cassandra Cotton, assistant professor of sociology, taught me never to give up. When I presented her with my thesis project idea, she inspired me to get the ball rolling and believed in me after several failed attempts at acquiring funding. 

Q: What’s the best advice for those still in school?

A: Always believe in yourself. When we reach this level of education and adulthood, there are many instances of rejection and failure, but they are never reflections of aptness or the ability to succeed. It’s usually an opportunity to learn and grow. I do my best learning when I believe in myself after failing. I didn’t always have this mindset; I still struggle to believe in myself, but it reminds me of the importance of never selling yourself short every time I do.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Following graduation, I’m traveling to Morocco, France, and Portugal for several weeks to decompress after five busy years. I will begin medical school when I return in July!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Twenty-six percent of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. This statistic is appalling for someone who lives in an area where this has not been a major issue. I didn’t know this was an issue until I expanded my horizons with international travel. Solving this issue would cost much more than $40 million, but it would at least be a start!

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