Health Policy Scholar Raves About Summer Externship in The ACP Advocate

Source: The ACP Advocate

By Rachel Cooper, M.S.P.H.

After a long, fulfilling summer in Washington, D.C., I have returned to Nashville, Tenn., to start my second year as a medical student at Meharry Medical College. During my two months there, I learned the advantages of being in Washington, D.C., as a health-policy intern.


Along with my medical school studies, I am a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar. As a Scholar, during the school year I attended lectures once a week and was expected to complete a summer externship in the field of health policy. I was selected to work as a research intern at the Jacobs Institute for Women's Health at The George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health. I worked directly under Dr. Susan Wood, the director of the program, on a community health and family planning study. At The GWU and the Jacobs Institute for Women's Health, I was surrounded by leaders in the fields of women's health and health policy. I observed firsthand how experts in the field of women's health responded to the most recent Supreme Court rulings by discussing their implications and taking action immediately.

As a first-time visitor to Washington, D.C., I had never been to the "The Hill." By the end of the summer, I had attended briefings on Children's Health Coverage, Changes in Premium Rates, Rising Mortality Rates in Women in the U.S. and was in both the Dirksen and Russell Senate Office Buildings, as well as the Cannon and Rayburn House Office Buildings. In addition, I visited the Brookings Institution for a panel on "Patient-Centered Cancer Care" and The Washington Post for the forum, "Health Beyond Healthcare," where I met and spoke with the Surgeon General! At times, the discussions on the delivery of women's health services and health policy were overwhelming. At each seminar, I had the same thought: "I hope I am able to make sufficient notes of all of this information." And yet, I found myself constantly revisiting the ideas and topics I picked up at each event. As the summer progressed, I followed along more clearly in lectures I attended and the discussion in which I participated.

As a student member of the American College of Physicians, I was uncertain of the role physicians played in health policy and what went on in ACP's D.C. office. I was fortunate when Jolynne Flores, supervisor for grassroots advocacy and PAC, responded to my email and invited me to the ACP office to further discuss my externship research. There, I was introduced to the health policy issues in which the ACP is invested and the bills the College hopes could serve as solutions. Through discussions with ACP staff and suggested readings, I familiarized myself with Medicare's Sustainable Growth Rate and the importance of its repeal, and the Medicaid Pay Parity program, which matches Medicaid payments for primary care services to those of Medicare, and Medical Liability reform.

During the final week of my externship, I attended the report released by the Institute of Medicine on the Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education at The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. There, the researchers presented data and decisions that will directly impact me, my medical school classmates and, indeed, all medical students as we plan for the residency phase of our education and training as physicians.

Because of the high quality and the variety of the experiences I have had this summer, my perception of the role physicians play in health policy has been made clear and I now ask, "What can I do as a medical student?" I now know that the issues that currently stand at the forefront of health policy have taken years to develop and the work being done now will directly affect my career as a physician and my patients. I recommend that all medical students pay closer attention to the legislation, read and ask more questions. No matter how foreign a topic may seem, investing time to become more aware of an issue will pay off. I hope to influence health policy in my years to come, and I am much more prepared to do so because of the skills gained from this summer's experiences.