October 27, 2008

Advice from Elizabeth Edwards

This post is not about Holiday Helpings. Tonight I am not writing as "Valentine the Development Associate," but rather as "Valentine the Health Policy Student." (In my other life, when I'm not sitting at a desk, I'm finishing up my MPH in Health Policy at George Washington.)

Tonight "Valentine the Health Policy Student" was sitting in an auditorium listening to a woman whom I have long admired...Elizabeth Edwards.

As a born and bred North Carolinian, I've been looking forward to this evening's presentation for weeks--so you can imagine my excitement when the first audience question asked was mine! (rather than take questions directly from the audience, we were able to write questions down on notecards and they were asked by the moderator)

Q: Understanding that we cannot just scrap the current system and start over, what advice would you give to those of us beginning our careers in health policy today?

Mrs. Edwards' answer made me even happier. She said (paraphrase): You have to start on the ground--talk to patients, talk to providers. They rarely get asked what they need.

Yes! This is what we have been saying at Bread for the City for so long. We don't think we have all the answers, but we have stories. We listen to our patients when they tell us the healthcare system is so complicated that it's a full-time job to try to get the care they need. We understand how strained the system is as we try desperately to provide care for a little over 2,500 patients, but know we're not even scratching the surface of the need in our area. And while we don't have all the answers, living the problems day in and day out, you start to see at least a few potential solutions.

Friends and family ask me about what I'm learning as I get my MPH...but while I am enjoying my studies, I find the most important lessons I receive are from my days at Bread for the City. Who knew I was just taking Elizabeth Edwards' advice?

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