Stephanie Tomazin, MPH, has always been a high-energy and naturally curious person. As a child, it was rare that she wasn’t asking how something worked or why things were a certain way. Tomazin quickly became bored if she wasn’t engaged in an activity and turned to sports as her outlet. As she got older, she became a bit of a sports fanatic. She started playing softball competitively and was an avid fan of Chicago’s many professional sports teams, especially the White Sox and the Bears.
But when Tomazin was in middle school, her life took a scary turn. Her mom was having debilitating migraines and a brain scan revealed a brain aneurysm. Surgeons successfully clipped the arterial bulge, but Tomazin’s mother had a stroke a few hours later and was rushed back to the operating room. After a second surgery, she was bedridden and unable to talk or eat. With the help of a team of rehabilitation specialists and a supportive family, Tomazin’s mother recovered to the point that most people who meet her now never know what she has been through. “It really goes to show how amazing medicine can be, especially when it’s provided early on when there’s a problem,” says Tomazin, 29.
That experience ties in directly with what Tomazin is doing these days. As a project coordinator in the Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, she works on a project that uses smartphones to collect data in real-time to evaluate the mood, physical activity and pain levels of people recovering from a stroke. The study aims to understand a patient’s experience and recovery process outside a traditional medical setting. Tomazin also helps enroll people with traumatic spinal cord injury into the National Spinal Cord Injury Database. The database is a repository of information collected from patients with spinal cord injury in the United States. Tomazin obtains consent to enroll patients before their discharge from Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. She conducts the initial interviews and schedules and conducts follow up interviews that take place every five years after enrollment.
Back when she was in college at Loyola University Chicago, Tomazin majored in exercise science while working part-time doing on-field promotions for the White Sox and Bears. Serious back and shoulder injuries from softball at a previous school ended her collegiate playing career, and she considered becoming a physical therapist before realizing the repetitive nature of the work wasn’t for her. Tomazin also thought about becoming a doctor or a physician’s assistant, but a stint as a patient-care technician at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab convinced her that wasn’t her calling either. “I liked getting to know people, but working in patient care was emotionally draining,” she says. “I’m very empathetic, so when they were hurting, I was hurting.”
While figuring out her next step, Tomazin pursued a master’s degree in public health from Grand Canyon University. The online program enabled her to work while completing her coursework. Tomazin enjoyed the research aspect of the program more than anything else. “You’re always looking for answers. People are told ‘You’ll never be able to do this or that,’ but research is finding answers that can give them hope.”
After finishing her master’s degree in the spring of 2020, Tomazin was hired by the Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. She has already been promoted and is now considering her next career move.
She is considering getting a PhD in performance or organizational psychology, but for now, she is happy. “I like where I’m at. I’d like to further my research career and am open to whatever happens.”
Meanwhile, Tomazin is still active in sports. In addition to attending professional games, she coaches baseball and softball players in batting and mental skills and drops by as many of their games as possible. “I do like to have many things going on at once, and I keep my schedule pretty packed,” she says. “But I have been actively trying to balance things while embracing the present moment and being more mindful of how much I fill my plate with commitments.”