Sarah McHugh thought she was on her way to a career in the hard sciences when two Urban Studies courses during her junior year at Penn ignited in her a passion for public policy. Eight years later, she has impressive experience in the public sector under her belt and is currently working for the federal government on health policy.
Sarah McHugh came to Penn expecting to pursue a career in the hard sciences; 8 years later she is working for the federal government on health policy. This career path, while not foreseen during McHugh’s time at Penn, is built upon the breadth of experiences, skills, and interests she developed while at Penn.
As an undergraduate studying Cognitive Science, specifically concentrating in Neuroscience, she spent her first two years at Penn working part-time and in the summer as a bench science lab technician. However, she slowly started to realize that this was not a career she hoped to be doing in the future. She “pressed pause” on science when she studied abroad the first semester of her junior year in Lyon. There she delighted in the study of French literature, film, and history. After returning to Penn, she took two Urban Studies courses: “Community Economic Development” taught by Professor Lamas and “Urban Health Systems” taught by Bettina Hoerlin. These prompted an examination of public policy where she realized her background in the scientific method was still applicable. Upon her return, she also coupled her coursework with participation in two of Penn’s Engagement Initiatives, Sayre Beacon and the National Student Partnerships (now LIFT), which allowed students to explore problems related to education and poverty in West Philadelphia. These experiences confirmed McHugh’s decision to enter the realm of public service.
After graduation, she knew Washington, DC would be the right place for her to move to go for a career in public service. After interning for a few months at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), she was offered a full-time position for the remainder of the 2008 election cycle as a research analyst responsible for opposition research and ad hoc rapid response. At the conclusion of the 2008 election cycle, she transitioned to Capitol Hill where she worked in the 111th Congress as a Legislative Assistant for her hometown’s (Cincinnati, OH) U.S. Representative, Congressman Steve Driehaus. During her time there, she covered a wide portfolio of issues, the most compelling of which was her boss’ support of healthcare reform. Shortly after leaving the Congressman’s office and knowing she wanted to continue focusing on healthcare related issues, McHugh attended the University of Michigan to pursue a Master of Public Health in Health Management and Policy.
After completion of her degree, McHugh returned to the Mid-Atlantic to work at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation Center (CMMI) in Baltimore, Maryland. CMMI is a new center that was created through the Affordable Care Act to support the development and testing of innovative healthcare payment and service delivery models. McHugh, a Social Science Research Analyst, is a project lead in CMMI’s Division of Advanced Primary Care. She focuses on developing models that could drive further transformation in primary care and build on the experience of the Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC) initiative. CPC is a four-year multi-payer initiative where CMS collaborates with commercial and State health insurance plans in seven U.S. regions to support the provision of a core set of functions of comprehensive primary care. Even though “policy development is hard” she enjoys being challenged daily and is inspired by the relevancy of her work to the health system and American public. It is impressive to see how quickly McHugh has developed such an impressive career in the public sector. Her advice for students who are still deciding on whether to break into the policy sphere is to “continue seeking out what the Penn community has to offer, like courses, networking, and connections to public service. Ultimately, try to find a career that you find meaningful and impactful.” Lastly, and most importantly, she feels that students should “not be scared to jump into something new. You are equipped to pursue whatever you want because Penn, with its focus on interdisciplinary thinking and critical-analysis, has already given you the necessary skills to do so. Also, do not be afraid to be innovative and creative with whatever you decide to do.” So for those students who are still unsure of pursuing a career in the public sector or are worried about changing their future career plans, keep Sarah McHugh’s words of wisdom and impressive experiences in mind moving forward.
- University of Pennsylvania – Arts & Sciences – 2007
- Bachelors of Arts
- Major(s): Cognitive Science
- Minor(s): History
- University of Michigan – School of Public Health – 2013
- Master of Public Health
- Department of Health Management and Policy