At the start of my time as an undergraduate, I thought that I wanted to enter the healthcare field as a practicing physician. However, the more Anthropology courses I took and books I read, I realized that when it comes to health, access to a quality physician was only one piece of a very messy puzzle. I learned about the social determinants of health and how your zip code is actually a greater predictor of health outcomes than your genetic code. While I still acknowledge that the work of physicians and other allied health professionals is crucial to maintaining population health, I’ve become more intrigued by the influence of public health initiatives and health policies. While I had spent the past summer taking part in health services research, I felt like there was still so much to learn about health policy which is why I was so excited about the Women in Health Policy seminar that would be taking place in Washington D.C.
The first time I learned of PLEN was after receiving a forwarded email which was sent to students in the Peace and Conflict department at Swarthmore. The subject line read something along the lines of “This is perfect for you,” with the only catch being that the scholarship deadline was that same day. Fortunately, I was able to submit my application on time and was thus granted the amazing opportunity to attend the PLEN Women in Health Policy seminar which would prove to be a wildly transformative experience. As mentioned, I had never heard of PLEN prior to receiving that email, and at first felt like the whole organization was too good to be true. A non-profit with the goal of empowering and educating young women to be the leaders in public policy sounded so in line with my interests, yet somehow this was the first time I was learning about it.
The panels that I found most interesting included a panel on Maternal and Child Health and a panel on Careers in Health Policy. While sitting in on the Maternal and Child Health panel, we discussed the disproportionate rates of maternal mortality of black women in the United States. This discussion was extremely related to the material that I’ve covered in various Sociology and Anthropology courses. The way certain bodies are pathologized and hypersexualized is translated into disproportionate care given to bodies of color, especially black women. Hearing about the amazing work done to support mothers and their children was truly inspiring. Once again, I was reminded that physicians are not the only ones who play a role in improving individuals’ health. Through health advocacy, research, and lobbying, all of the women on the panel demonstrated how important their work was to supporting mothers at every stage of the process: from family planning to childbirth.
One of the most valuable parts about the seminar was learning about professional development through networking and first-hand accounts from women in the field. During our networking session with Allyson Perleoni, we were given a hilariously informative presentation on the “dos” and “don’ts” of professional networking. She taught us about email etiquette, what to expect from “getting coffee,” the importance of maintaining relationships, and how to never accept a “lady handshake.” Allyson embodies the confidence that I hope to carry into my professional career and is an excellent reminder that I too deserve to take up space.
My time at the seminar was an invaluable experience which exposed me to the myriad career opportunities within the realm of health policy. While it was fascinating to hear about various women’s experiences on Capitol Hill, what excited me most was hearing about health policy research and health advocacy work. Before the conference, I was unsure of what exactly “working in health policy” meant, and what kind of career I could see myself having. I can now confidently say that there is truly no linear path to success and that with hard work and the right mindset, I can achieve success. I look forward to pursuing a career in health policy research where I can utilize quantitative and qualitative methodologies to combat health disparities and aid in bringing Universal Health Care to the United States.
Amanda Carrillo-Perez attended the Women in Health Policy seminar in November 2018 with a scholarship sponsored by the PLEN Scholarship Fund. She is planning to graduate from Swarthmore College in 2019.