UA Physician and UA Med Student Embark on ‘Bike Listening Tour’ to Learn What Rural America Thinks about the Affordable Care Act

On Friday, April 22, Dr. Paul Gordon will start bicycling across the country, stopping daily in small towns to learn what people think of “Obamacare.”

Jane Erikson for the UA College of Medicine – Tucson

When the Affordable Care Act is in the news, it’s usually politicians or prominent health-care policy “wonks” doing the talking.

Paul Gordon, MD, MPH – professor and former chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson – wants to know what other folks have to say; specifically, those who live in rural America, where their voices seldom are heard beyond town lines.

On Thursday, April 21, Dr. Gordon will fly to Washington, D.C., and pick up his bicycle and gear, which he shipped ahead. On Friday, April 22, he will begin a two-month bicycle tour from the nation’s capital to Seattle, stopping daily to learn what people think of what is commonly called “Obamacare.”

He’s not looking for physicians or people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), although he will not exclude them from being interviewed. He will not disclose what he thinks of the ACA, and he will not try to correct anyone who makes an inaccurate statement about the Act.

He simply wants to hear and record people’s thoughts.

“My plan is to arrive in a small town, find that small café that I expect many rural towns still have, walk in, introduce myself to whoever is sitting there, and ask if they would be willing to talk to me,” he said.

The idea came to Dr. Gordon a year ago when he was on a backpacking vacation in the Grand Canyon with his wife, Tucson pediatrician Eve Shapiro, MD, and their children. A cyclist since high school, he’s wanted for 40 years or more to do a cross-country bike tour, but kept putting the idea on hold because of other obligations.

“So when the thought of riding across the country came up again, the challenge was to find an appropriate sabbatical activity that would fit with it,” said Dr. Gordon, who has been with the UA College of Medicine – Tucson and the Department of Family and Community Medicine since 1989. “The question about the Affordable Care Act always has been of interest to me, so the two seemed to meet.”

Also cycling for part of the tour will be Dr. Shapiro and Laurel Gray, first-year medical student at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.

Gray will start her leg of the Bike Listening Tour after she finishes classes in early June. She will fly to her hometown of Minneapolis and proceed on her bike to Seattle. She plans return to Tucson in late June to begin her second year of medical school.

Gray is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State University, where she majored in global health, with a focus on medical anthropology. She learned about health-care disparities by working as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Casa Marianella, an emergency shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers in Austin, Texas. She helped them find health insurance and providers willing to care for them for reduced cost – work that inspired her to expand her skill set by becoming a physician.

“I’m really excited about this project,” she said of the Bike Listening Tour. “I want to know what the general population is facing in terms of barriers to care. And as an anthropologist, I’m just generally very curious about what people think about health care.”

“I think listening is one of the most important things we do as physicians,” she said. “I am hoping this experience will make me a better doctor.”

The journal Academic Medicine has invited Dr. Gordon to submit a commentary summarizing his experience, and Gray plans to write for submission to Academic Medicine and other peer-reviewed journals.

People will be able to follow the cyclists on the blog they have set up: Dr. Gordon and Gray will post about their experiences regularly, and answer questions from people following their tour.

About the UA College of Medicine – Tucson

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson is advancing health and wellness through state-of-the-art medical education programs, groundbreaking research, and advancements in patient care in Arizona and across the United States. Founded in 1967, the College ranks among the top medical schools in the nation for research and primary care and is leading the way in academic medicine through its partnership with Banner – University Medicine, a new division of one of the largest nonprofit health-care systems in the country. For more information, please visit

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The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs almost 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $126 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: