Author Archives: Miriam Laugesen

How Much Should Individuals Entering Health Professions Know About Health Policy?

Sep 21, 2012, 10:45 AM, Posted by Miriam Laugesen

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Blog is asking diverse experts: What is and isn’t working in health professions education today, and what changes are needed to prepare a high-functioning health and health care workforce that can meet the country’s current and emerging needs? Today’s post is by Miriam Laugesen, PhD, an assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research for a study of Medicare physician payment policies.

When people apply to a program to study health policy, their admissions essay sometimes begins "I always wanted to be a physician, but I realized I wanted to impact more people." Health policy students think in terms of systems, and they are therefore different from front-line health care providers. Whereas a nurse may see the uninsured person with uncontrolled diabetes, the health policy student will connect this to failures of public policy; the patient is nested within clinical, social or organizational environments.

To understand that systemic context, our health policy students first need various 'hard' or technical skills such as program evaluation, epidemiology, and health economics, and it's these skills that employers often look for when hiring our graduates. Without a doubt, technical skills are always valuable.

However, one or two years out, and over the long-term, many of our policy students appreciate the 'soft' skills, such as solving problems, lobbying policy-makers, or building new coalitions. Our policy students learn larger lessons about why things happen, and why policies also fail. They become highly attuned to the framing of advocacy messages. They understand how and why Congress punishes federal agency heads when health policies threaten interests such as tobacco farmers, or why Congress enacts unpopular policies even though legislators want to be re-elected.

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