Learning How to Inform Health Policy

Patrick Conway, MD, MSc, explored this issue as an RWJF Clinical Scholar.

    • January 22, 2013

The Problem: How can a young physician move beyond the clinic and influence health policy? How can he acquire the “basic research toolkit” and necessary leadership skills?

Grantee Background: A native of Texas, Patrick Conway, MD, MSc, grew up certain he wanted to be a doctor but uncertain that practicing medicine alone would be enough. “I knew I was interested in broader issues, such as the quality of care in pediatrics,” he says.

Conway earned his medical degree with high honors from Baylor College of Medicine. During medical school, he was an American Medical Student Association Health Policy Fellow, spending the summer of 2000 working in the Surgeon General's office. There, he says, “I learned how a physician could impact medicine on a societal level.” Next came a residency in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School's Children's Hospital Boston.

Grantee Perspective: By the time he began his residency, Conway knew that he wanted to influence research and health policy. In the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program, he had the opportunity to do just that.

From 2005 to 2007, Conway was a Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, one of four universities participating in the program. He selected Penn because he wanted to combine training that was guided by program mentors in the Clinical Scholars program and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with extra coursework to earn a master's degree. As a Clinical Scholar, Conway conducted research on the quality of care in pediatrics. In the spring of 2007, he completed the Clinical Scholars program and received his master's degree in clinical epidemiology from Penn.

“It was an incredible experience for me,” says Conway. “I didn't have a master's in public health. I needed the basic research toolkit—epidemiology, biostatistics, cost effectiveness analysis. You learn very little about these important topics in medical school.”

Results: After completing the Clinical Scholars program, Conway accepted a faculty position as an assistant professor at the Center for Health Care Quality and the Division of General Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

But shortly he will be taking a leave of absence from this new position. He was selected in June to serve as one of 15 White House Fellows from around the country. Fellows typically spend a year working as full-time special assistants to top government officials and participate in an education program that includes discussions with national leaders from the public and private sectors as well as foreign policy trips.

Before starting as a White House Fellow in September 2007, Conway had more good career news: The Journal of the American Medical Association published his article—based on research he did as a Clinical Scholar—on the use of prophylactic (preventive) antibiotics in children with recurrent urinary tract infections (July 11, 2007; page 298). He and his co-authors concluded that prophylactic antibiotics were not associated with decreased risk of recurrentinfections, but they were associated with increased risk of antibiotic-resistant infections.

“The Clinical Scholars program provided the training I needed to become successful. I was able to work with tremendous mentors,” says Conway, whose long-term goal is to become a leader in a health care nonprofit organization or a government agency.

It is a goal he has reached. As of 2013, Conway is chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality.

RWJF Strategy: Originally authorized in 1972, the Clinical Scholars program is the oldest national program at RWJF. The program fosters the development of physicians who will lead the transformation of American health care. Former Clinical Scholars have become directors of federal, state and local health agencies and departments.

Senior Program Officer J.A. Grisso, MD, MSc, who manages the program at RWJF, sums up the ideal candidate this way: “Someone with the passion to make a difference in health and health care and the promise of being able to do it. Patrick is focused on important issues and has done work in health policy,” she says. “This new honor [the White House Fellowship] really fits.

Patrick Conway, MD, MSc

Patrick Conway, MD, MSc
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar, 2005-2007