Hema Krishna

Genetic Alliance, Washington, D.C.

As a Wellman Hill Grant recipient, I had the opportunity to intern with Genetic Alliance, an organization which advocates on issues related to genetic conditions and health policy. In my position as a policy intern at Genetic Alliance, I learned a great deal about how nonprofits operate in Washington, D.C.

During the first half of the summer, I organized Genetic Alliance’s annual advocacy Day on the Hill. I set up meetings with health legislative aides of nearly all the senators and many representatives and managed the logistics behind bringing over one hundred and fifty members of the genetics community to the Hill. Additionally, I worked with the policy team to determine the goals of our advocacy event and to create briefing materials on the issues for the Congressional offices and the doctors, researchers, patients, and advocates who would be participating. On the day of the event, I was a group leader; in this position, it was my duty to ensure that the meetings my group attended were focused and played to the strengths of each member. I coordinated the expertise of a genetic counselor and biotechnology company CEO to create a coherent message on issues ranging from the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and newborn screening to health information technology and genetic testing oversight. My group and I visited the offices of numerous senators and representatives (including both Senators Brown and Voinovich) and were able to bring attention to issues relating to genetic illness. One of the most powerful lessons I learned from this event was that in America, government truly is accessible to the people. I saw grassroots advocacy in action and realized that it is the duty of citizens to express their concerns to representatives if they want change.

Following the Day on the Hill, much of my work focused on the issue of health information technology (HIT). Because Genetic Alliance had just begun to be involved with HIT, I was asked to do background research on Congress’s position on the issue. I wrote reports on the actions of various HIT-focused coalitions and made a recommendation as to which one Genetic Alliance ought to join. Through this process, I worked with the CEO of Genetic Alliance and gained valuable insight into the world of Washington politics; I did not realize how much of getting things done in D.C. is about knowing the right people. In the process of seeing Genetic Alliance’s CEO calculate the costs and benefits of following my recommendation, I saw how a political network is formed and maintained.

Beyond the internship, living in Washington, D.C. was a truly amazing experience. The cultural and intellectual opportunities are endless; I attended everything from an African drum circle in northeast DC to conferences on disparities in healthcare. I even tried Ethiopian food for the first time! Working at a nonprofit in a city like Washington exposed me to people who are genuinely passionate about their work and even if seeing such passion was all I gained, my summer in D.C. would have been worthwhile.

My internship experience has cemented my desire to work in health policy in the future. I am currently applying to MD/Masters in Public Health dual degree programs for the fall of 2009 and I will be completing an honors senior thesis on health policy this semester. Additionally, I plan to begin work with the Better Health Greater Cleveland initiative, an organization which seeks to improve the management of chronic disease in the Cleveland area. I was also offered a fellowship with Genetic Alliance to continue the work I did this summer. For this upcoming spring, I have applied to study political science with a focus on health policy at Cambridge University in England. As a Wellman Hill Grant recipient, I saw the effect policies have on ordinary Americans. Every person is touched by health policy and through my work in public health, I will positively impact the lives of people across the country.