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By Erin Board, OMS IV
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine

As I near the completion of my medical school career, having the opportunity to come to DC and work with AACOM was one of the highlights of my medical school experience.  My background in public health led me to a career in osteopathic medicine, where I was able to shape my education and practice in a way that truly embraces that health is not merely the absence of disease or symptoms but that, in the words of the World Health Organization, it is “[a] state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being “.  My time in traditional medical school curriculum at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine instilled in me a superb set of skills to address the physical, mental, and spiritual health of my patients.  AACOM took it a step further by fostering the development of another set of skills which will allow me to address the social well-being of my patients; because to understand how to address social well-being is to understand the government policies that create social determinants of health.

My time in DC was largely framed by my research paper, which explored health outcomes in the U.S. and the policies that address them. Throughout the development of that policy research, I was able to sit in on over 130 hours of lectures, seminars, and briefings related to health, health care, and health policy. The following are a few of my favorite events I was able to attend:

  • The congressional testimony of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell regarding the HHS fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget release;
  • The Health Affairs Journal briefing led by the authors of the studies featured in March’s issue, which was not only informative from a policy point of view but also from an evidence-based practice point of view;
  • The address given by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, to the Prevention Advisory Committee regarding his intentions of prioritizing obesity and tobacco issues during his tenure;
  • Meeting and speaking with my home state West Virginia congressional delegation Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV) about student loan debt and the importance of teaching health centers in underserved areas; and  
  • A conference on aging and dying in America hosted by the Institute of Medicine during which I was able to hear Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, and other remarkable leaders in health care discuss the importance of incorporating end-of-life discussions as a standard of practice.

One thing about policy creation that was reinforced during my time - and somewhat played out in my research paper - is that policy is dependent upon thousands of facts coming together to define a problem with politics factored in before it can be considered in Congress.  Functioning on this side of the beltway is all about being able to absorb epically vast amounts of continually-evolving information and reconstruct it into a comprehensible, timely, and very concise picture all while understanding and monitoring political shifts and limitations.

When, on my first day, I was asked to summarize the President’s FY15 budget regarding health care spending in a very short turnaround time, I knew that my time here was going to be guided by high expectations. Luckily, I was able to stay centered and grounded through most of that, thanks to a few of my favorite things about this city: the National Botanical Gardens, a life saver in a city of brutal winters and conveniently located right next to Capitol Hill; the Capital Bikeshare, as my propensity to get motion sickness on an over-crowded metro is truly remarkable; Flow Yoga, one of the best yoga studios ever offering the greatest antidote to any day’s hectic scramble in one-hour increments; and the GR staff at AACOM who are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met!

Before signing out and as one last comment, because health care makes up more than 17 percent of our country’s entire gross domestic product, policy targeting will continue to be generated. These policies directly affect our lives, the way physicians practice, and our patient’s lives.  It is not uncommon for many of those policies to be created and influenced by theoretical physicians who have long since traipsed the hallways of clinical offices and hospitals. For these reasons and others, it continues to be incredibly important for students and practitioners to reach out to those within the beltway so that the policies that affect us might also represent us.  And with that, and because I’m about to be late for another meeting, I wish you all the best and thank you for reading all the way to the very end!

Please feel free to contact Ms. Board with specific questions about her OHPI experience at eboard@osteo.wvsom.edu.

Inside OME Header
March 2015
Vol. 9, No. 3