Medical Student Reflections: My Health Policy Journey

mike 4Guest post from Michael J. Strong, MD, PhD
Neurosurgery Resident, University of Michigan

Health policy has been an interest of mine even before medical school. With my acceptance letter to Tulane Medical School in one hand and my diploma from the Master of Public Health program at Tufts University in the other, I began my exploration into the realm of health policy during the summer of 2009. As a recent graduate of public health at the time, I wanted an opportunity to apply my training in the “real world.” I looked into several opportunities but ultimately was able to line up an opportunity to work in the Office of the Surgeon General in Washington, DC. This was my first experience at applied health policy and public health, and there was no better place to experience health policy firsthand than in our nation’s capital.

Now, fast-forward eight years (yes, it took me a little longer to graduate from medical school — I made a pit stop to get a PhD along the way), and as serendipity would have it, I found myself back in Washington, DC partaking in issues related to health care and health policy. This time around, I had the fortunate opportunity to work on Capitol Hill on issues that have a direct impact on our health care system.

cass 3Being a medical student studying in Louisiana, it was natural for me to work with a Congressman from my current state. As an added bonus, not only is Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, he is a physician —  one of only 15 currently serving in the United States Congress. Although Dr. Cassidy no longer practices medicine in the formal sense, he is still very much in tune with health care related issues as reflected by his congressional staff. I would even argue that he continues to practice medicine, now on a more global scale, in policies that help shape our current health care system.

Reflecting back on my experience working in Senator Cassidy’s office, this was the ideal time for me to engage in health policy during the heated debate surrounding the state of our current health care system. Jumping from one meeting to the next, listening to the specific requests from various advocacy groups, I tried to learn as much as I could while keeping up with his staff. From discussions involving the current status of the Zika virus outbreak to mental health training for law enforcement, I tried to get involved in everything related to health care. All in all, I made great strides in learning how the health policy arena operates, but as with many things, my rotation came to an end. One thing is for sure, the opportunities bestowed upon me during this rotation will shape my career in neurosurgery and how I practice medicine. I believe my time was well spent, and I would highly recommend this rotation to all medical students.

As I drove away from Washington DC, with the city in my rearview, I couldn’t help but reflect back to where my journey in health policy began all so long ago. It was only fitting that I finish my medical school career in the same vein as how I started — engaging in health policy in our nation’s capital. Now, with my match letter to the University of Michigan in one hand and endless possibilities in the other, my journey into health care policy is far from over. Just maybe I will find myself back in Washington, DC again.

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