One of the many things that Erin Hartman has gained from her education at Penn is an expansive understanding of the role that nurses can play in the health care system—including as actors in shaping health care policy. Her initial attraction to the nursing profession derived, as one might expect, from her appreciation of the clinical care component. “The role that nurses play in the hospital stood out to me as being the most influential,” she says, reflecting back on the summer program she attended at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) after her junior year of high school. “I always desired a career in which I would devote my work to helping people, and through my summer experience I realized that nurses had the unique potential to really understand and impact their patients, both during their time of sickness in the hospital and after the resumption of their daily lives.” But in Erin’s freshman year at Penn, her introductory Nursing courses and Nursing School advisors—especially Professor Julie Sochalski (former Director for the Division of Nursing in the Bureau of Health Professions at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)—drew her attention to the way in which government policy would affect her practice as a nurse and influence not just how her patients access medical care but the quality of care they receive.
Since then, Erin has made the study of public policy an integral part of her Penn experience, adding the Public Policy Research Scholars (PPRS) program to her Nursing curriculum. Of her decision to pursue PPRS, Erin says: “I want to study public policy in order to learn how to be an advocate for my patients in the political arena.” For her, nursing and public policy are mutually-reinforcing endeavors—two sides of her overarching goal of helping people lead healthier lives. “I feel as though I will be in the ideal position as a nurse to work to advocate for policies that best reflect what patients need and want from their health care system.” And to that end, Erin envisions working within the political arena in some capacity down the road. “I feel in order to make a substantial impact you have to operate in the political sphere, which trickles down to influencing hospital policy and practitioner policy,” she asserts. “I am the most interested in health care access and health insurance coverage— issues that are at the heart of health politics.”
Beyond her classroom work, Erin has been able to merge her interests in health care policy and practice by working as a research intern at CHOP’s Policy Lab—a center dedicated to improving child health and well-being by developing and performing original research to inform and affect health policy. Armed with this academic research experience, Erin is getting her first taste of what it is like to work on the front lines of federal policymaking by interning on Capitol Hill this summer with the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, where she’ll assist staffers with analyzing legislation, writing memorandums, and conducting policy research.
In pursuing an education that bridges patient care and policy research, Erin is gaining both the skills and the vocabulary to translate her insights and observations from the clinical realm into policy action. “Eventually, I hope to go back to school for a masters or a degree in healthcare law,” she envisions. “Ultimately, I feel that I can have the greatest difference on patients and communities by influencing policy.”