Q&A with the Cancer Policy Interns
What made you interested in the UF Health Cancer Center cancer policy intern position?
CRETUL: My research revolves around integrating communications technologies into cancer care to extend health care to populations who may not otherwise have access, a process sometimes referred to as telehealth. Policy restrictions are often listed amongst the top barriers to the overall adoption of telehealth, so I was hoping this internship would give me a better understanding of the considerations that go into creating policy that deals with telehealth specifically, as well as cancer care in general. By getting firsthand experience while working within the office of a member of Congress, I have gained just that.
BARBERA: What made me interested was that health policy models offer interactions among researchers, practitioners and professionals seeking innovation to strengthen health industries. The UF Health Cancer Center is premier in research and treatment; its priorities include continued advancement which involves national participation. The internship offers firsthand observation as to how policy interests are developed and the procedures of governance through which interest have the potential for implementation. The experiential learning demonstrates the functions and interactions of systems that contribute to policy. Data shows disparate outcomes in health based on demographic contingencies; these outcomes are similarly reflective in various policy areas outside of health. Health policy is a complex national issue; thus, it can serve as a model for understanding solution-driven approaches for other national policy issues.
How has this experience influenced or aided your future career plan?
CRETUL: This internship has both influenced and aided my future career plans quite a bit. First, it has given me a much greater understanding of the range of roles my degree will qualify me for in the public and private sectors. Additionally, it has allowed me to network and make incredible contacts that will be extremely valuable post-graduation. The Gator Nation truly is everywhere – you’ve just got to meet them and stay in touch!
BARBERA: Paradigms of Western thought often emphasize a focus of social issues extensively without attention to the political dynamics that drive them. The position allows me to understand that policies are facilitated through identifying where possibilities exist for political goals, rather than the focus on the data of the issue itself. The focus on information without consideration of the interests and structures involved limits the potential for any policy goals to be realized. The experience provides awareness to the logic that define issues and interests in policy. Through focusing on what strategies are or are not likely through the political dynamics that exist, it clarifies the potential for proposed outcomes, or can be used to consider alternative strategies or goals that may be better suited for a policy.
Can you describe your tasks and the work you have done over the course of the internship?
CRETUL: As an intern, of course, you do intern things. I answer phones, fold constituent letters, and run errands for different congressional staffers. But I have also been extremely fortunate on numerous occasions to sit in on and contribute to senior staff and member-level meetings with various healthcare and veteran organizations, as well as help compile data and information that goes into creating policy on telehealth. I have been asked to attend, represent and report back to the office on briefings, events and panel discussions that deal with relevant topics such as innovations in health care, higher education, potential policy changes, veterans’ issues and more.
BARBERA: My portfolio is focused on health policy. These responsibilities include meeting with stakeholders and constituents on their respective health policy priorities, communicating their requests, assisting in information gathering for legislative health priorities, assisting in advancing proposals through the legislative procedure, and attending congressional proceedings. The exposure and research facilitates a knowledge base that will result in a policy brief relevant to the UF Health Cancer Center and the state of Florida on organ transplant policy.
What have you achieved so far through this position?
CRETUL: I can say with certainty that I provided insight, perspective and information that went into producing proposed federal policy, and I was able to contribute to the overall success of UF’s mission here in Washington D.C. as well.
BARBERA: The placement in a new institutional environment creates circumstances that facilitate the initiation of new skills and knowledge. Through the experience, I achieved a willingness to learn new information and a willingness to adapt to new challenges. These foundational components allow me to engage with the experience, contributing not only to professional capabilities but, importantly, personal growth.
What has been the most helpful or interesting aspect of the internship?
CRETUL: The most helpful aspect of the internship has been the ability to broaden my knowledge base on health care policy from a conceptual understanding to a practical understanding. Seeing firsthand the considerations that go into crafting policy has really assisted with that transition. From an interesting perspective, working directly out of a member’s office means one of my duties is to take constituents who are in Washington D.C. on a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building if I’m free. It took a few attempts before I got the hang of it, but it is a fantastic experience to be able to spend so much time in the building that represents the center of the legislative branch of our federal government.
I have gotten to hang out on the speaker’s balcony, walk on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and shared plenty of escalators and elevators with many of the “famous” members of Congress you see on TV. It was also interesting to be speaking to the congressman one minute just before he entered a televised hearing, and literally the next minute there he is on C-SPAN asking panelists questions that we were just talking about!
BARBERA: The most helpful aspect of the internship has been the team I am partnered with. I am with a self-initiated team that holds standards in their production. The environment allows me to fully immerse in this new capacity by responding to new information quickly and adapting through experience.
What were some challenges you have faced during this experience and how have you overcome them?
CRETUL: Time management is crucial to a successful internship experience, as is the ability to multitask. You are given numerous tasks to complete, sometimes simultaneously, and the more you show you can do in a timely manner, the more responsibility you are given. Ultimately, showing you can complete what is asked of you benefits the office, which in turn, benefits you. In the Army, volunteering for jobs before you knew what they were usually meant doing “less than desirable” tasks that no one wanted to do. Here it’s the opposite, so my advice is to volunteer for everything that comes your way, even before you know what it is. From a logistical perspective, learning how to get around D.C. on the metro is clutch!
BARBERA: Being in a different professional environment required rewiring my cognition. Building new neuropathways that allowed for new ways of thinking and new skill development was not easy. I overcame the hurdle by focusing the experience as an opportunity for growth, rather than frustration when adapting to new information. I recognized that my decision to take on this experience was intentional in order to challenge myself and strengthen my capabilities.
How does this differ from other UF cancer-related or other institutions’ policy internships?
CRETUL: Working both for UF as well as directly for a member’s office has given me a much more complete experience than if I was working for one or the other like many of the interns I run into here. They seem to have little to no interaction with their institution while they are in D.C. Maintaining an active connection with the UF Office of Federal Relations allowed me to both assist and represent a flagship R-1 institution on Capitol Hill. The congressman’s office was more than willing to allow me to attend events for UF when I was asked to, and most times they would request copies of the notes I took for their benefit as well. Plus, working in Washington D.C. puts you in the (literal) center of federal policy and legislative action.
BARBERA: The internship differs in that it provides real-time experience. One can observe or participate with the policy process among the intersecting industries and national political structures. It is unique in that one is able to receive current information and apply it through the policy-making process, as well as understand the development of political procedures. The research involved allows for the development of policy skills that contribute to information that will be of direct relevance to health patients in the state of Florida.