By Leslie K. Bruce, Instructor
A chief operating officer, a foreign-trained physician and a registered nurse walk into the Capitol … A new twist on an old joke?
No, those were students in UC San Diego Extension’s “Politics and Public Policy of US Healthcare” course, which included a week recently spent in Washington, DC.
MEET ME IN DC: Students from Leslie K. Bruce’s “Politics and Public Policy of US Healthcare” conferred with Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) in his Congressional office. From left to right: Luis Espejo, Deizel Sarte, Rep. Peters, Peggy Onstot, Lorna Gerlt, Jessica Smeaton, and instructor Leslie Bruce
All of our students, who included working professionals from master’s degree programs in “Health Law and Policy” and “Healthcare Leadership” or hailed from the healthcare community at-large, had one thing in common: a desire to learn how to advocate most effectively for their patients, professions, and organizations.
The first session featured a meeting with Steve Alexander, a leading San Diego-based political communications strategist who spoke about the essential tools of advocacy. They discussed how to propose specific legislative or policy goals, to craft strategic communications plans, and how to carefully shape messaging that resonates with elected leaders.
Armed with that knowledge, they convened at the University of California’s Washington, DC Center, where they met informally with Norman J. Ornstein, the nationally-known political columnist and commentator with the Washington Post, Roll Call, The Atlantic, National Journal and other leading publications.
Later, the students met with Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civic Discourse and president-founder of America Speaks, a national non-profit that advocates “deliberative democracy” as a way to engage more voters in the national political process.
Along the way, we met with a number of think-tank scholars and healthcare lobbyists. The sessions gave all of us a clearer sense of the strongly-held beliefs that both drive and divide America’s leading political parties.
During our meetings with top staffers at the Health and Human Services Department, we were regaled with tales from the front lines of healthcare delivery, led by the challenges of implementing the Affordable Care Act and the progress of the nationwide roll-out.
In one session, a Congressional chief of staff and a communications professional engaged the students in a hands-on session about how to write policy proposals in a compelling and succinct style for legislators and policymakers.
Then it was time for Hill visits. Capitol Hill, that is.
The students spent two full days wielding their new advocacy tools in visits to the offices of Senate and House members, including Representatives Susan Davis and Scott Peters and their staff members.
Later, the students met in the Capitol building with Charlotte Ivancic, health policy director for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). They also met with two senior analysts for the House Budget Committee in the lower echelons of the Cannon House Office Building.
Of course, no Capitol Hill visit would be complete without photo opps on the Capitol steps. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) happened to stroll by and cheerfully posed for a group photo.
In all, students met with a total of 31 DC-based political advocacy experts. When their trip was over, they all expressed surprise at how smart, kind, and dedicated each of these public servants were, despite their preconceived notions.
As their instructor, I’m proud and confident that they now feel informed, emboldened and empowered to engage in democracy effectively and make healthcare better for all Americans.