By Patricia Egwuatu, OMS IV
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine (PNWU-COM)
In the beginning of my 4th year of medical school, I had the opportunity to head to Washington, D.C. as an Osteopathic Health Policy Intern (OHPI) in AACOM’s Government Relations Department for two months. Words cannot describe the emotions that ran through my mind as I ended the last rotation of my third year and began to pack for my time away from Seattle, WA.
Throughout my first three years of medical school, I had a strong interest in health policy, but was never able to fully develop a solid background on what health policy truly entailed. When I learned that I was awarded the chance to be a part of AACOM’s Government Relations team as their OHPI, I jumped at the opportunity to become more hands-on and develop a better understanding of health policy.
AACOM allowed me the chance to see medicine through another set of eyes, and gave me additional skills that will allow me to become a better physician. I found it vitally important to understand that in order to help a patient, I also needed to understand how the government creates policies that are centered on patient care. This knowledge gave me an understanding of how I can better serve my patients.
During my first week as an intern, I was immediately integrated into the health policy world. I was introduced into my new role where I would attend policy events, cover briefings, and monitor political newsletters. I had the opportunity that week to hear the House Ways and Means Committee speak about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld health insurance subsidies for individuals using the ACA’s federal exchange known as HealthCare.gov. Later during my first week I attended a hearing on the reauthorization of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Law. This law ensures that those affected by 9/11 continue to receive monitoring and treatment for health- related problems. The testimonies at the hearing were powerful and impacted my thoughts on what I knew about the first responders who gave their lives on 9/11 and the responders who suffered from continued daily health care problems. It showed how powerful health care policy is and that the implementation of this law allows these responders the ability to go on to live their lives.
The time as an OHPI allowed me to strengthen my desire to go into primary care. I had the chance to cover a Robert Graham Center Forum on Innovations in Population Health Management in Primary Care Practices and learn about how the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center treats its Native American population. They are able to recognize that Native Americans have the best screening practices for the prevention of diabetes but have the poorest outcomes, while New Mexico has some of the highest rates of health care burden. They took on identifying social determinants that individuals face at home and to help address these issues before patients leave the clinic. This information allowed me to realize how essential primary care is and recognize that my patients may have issues at home that stop them from receiving health care. Being able to identify these issues can help point them in the right direction and allow individuals to live better lives.
My time as an OHPI allowed me to understand the framework on how policies are created and implemented. I gained a deeper understanding of the operation of the federal government as well as health care forums and advocacy. The opportunity that AACOM gave me has helped me realize how much I want to continue to learn about policy and implement it in my life as a future osteopathic physician.
Please feel free to contact Patricia Egwuatu with specific questions about her OHPI experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.