by Anji Buckner
On April 23, 10 students and a faculty member from the Health Science and Recreation Department set off on the first – of what we all hope to be – an annual CSU-wide Health Science Public Policy Summit.
The Summit was coordinated by the Chair of CSU-Los Angeles Public Health Department, Walter Zelman. In the past, Professor Zelman has taken his own CSU-LA students to Sacramento to learn more about the state political process regarding health, health care, and the health professions. This year, due to the generosity of the California Endowment, Zelman was able to offer the experience to all CSU Health Science departments. In total, nearly 170 students and 10 faculty members participated.
The purpose of the 2-day summit was to introduce students to the political process and engage in professional networking. Students across all campuses were encouraged to meet one another, talk about their schools and programs, and learn about the many different Master’s in Public Health programs that are offered throughout the CSU system. Additionally, Zelman had orchestrated an impressive line-up of leaders to speak to the group about their lives, professions, and the health policy process.
The two days were full of engaging activities that started with a warm welcome by State Senator Kevin DeLeon of Los Angeles. DeLeon shared his life experiences that led him into state politics and encouraged the students, through his personal story, to develop and maintain a strong work ethic and cultivate a curiosity that can inspire critical thought and innovative solutions to the most challenging of community experiences. Following Senator DeLeon, students attended the Assembly Health Hearing, where they heard the presentation and opposition to AB 154 Atkins, which proposes to extend access to abortion through training of additional providers. The proposed legislation served as a prime example of the ways in which the political process must incorporate public participation and how, when opinions are polarized, the legislative process becomes far more complicated.
The group also attended a portion of the Board meeting of the California Exchange, which is the leadership body responsible for overseeing implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in our state. The group also got to meet two policy analysts – Joe Parra of the State Republican Office and Mia Orr from the office of Democratic Assembly member Holly Mitchell.
Day Two was equally engaging as the group met with one California eader after another. We started with a panel from the top leadership of the State department of Public Health, including: Chief Epidemiologist and Deputy Director for the Center for Infectious Disease- Dr. Gill Chavez; Chief Deputy Director of Policy and Programs -Kathleen Billingsley; Deputy Director of the Office of Public Affairs – Anita Gore; the director of the California Exchange – Diane Stanton; “Place Matters” program director of the California Endowment, Christine Tien; health policy journalists Dan Walters and Evan Halper; Marty Gallegos of the California Hospital Association; and the highest-ranking state health official – Secretary of Health – Diana Dooley.
Intermixed with these remarkable discussions with public policy leaders and professionals, students from each school presented what they most liked, appreciated, and felt to be unique about their university and program. This was illuminating as each student group spoke eloquently and personally about the meaning of their Health Science degree. To great credit across all the departments in the CSU system, it was powerfully evident that these students are passionate and committed to working towards change that will improve people’s lives.
All in all, SJSU HSR students are returning to campus with a renewed enthusiasm for public policy, a better understanding of the strengths of all of the CSU HS programs, new friendships, and many resources for employment opportunities in health policy and health reform. Faculty who attended the two-day summit are also returning to campus with a lot of ideas of how we can all better support and encourage our students to engage in public policy, ways we can use our campus to initiate and participate in health reform, and how we might envision innovative programming that continues to unite the Health Science faculty and students throughout the state.
Additionally, the 2-day conference was video-recorded by SJSU Health Science Alum Byron Doughtery and will be made into a short documentary highlighting the events and showcasing the enthusiasm for Health Science, health reform, and public policy.
Those of us who attended from SJSU are very appreciative of the efforts of CSU-LA to initiate this statewide experience. We will do all we can to ensure that this first-ever event becomes the first-annual public policy summit for CSU Health Science students.