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I’ve been doing a lot of listening this first week, and in doing so I’ve developed a much more robust understanding of how my organization makes tangible contributions to healthcare policy.

I am interning in the Health and Medicine division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), an organization that advises science policy and provides expert advice on issues relating to science, technology, and medicine.  The NASEM is currently working on a report with recommendations for cancer control strategies, and I had the opportunity to observe a three-day meeting between members of the committee that will be producing the report over the course of the next year. The committee is intentionally diverse and includes a range of stakeholders such as medical professionals, bioethicists, economists, and health policy professors to ensure that they can craft a report from many perspectives.

As I watched NASEM staff and committee members convene, discuss, and produce an outline for the report, I came to understand how the NASEM helps bridge the gap between the policy world and the medical research world. Through organizing this meeting and publishing the report that will follow, the NASEM is effectively creating a forum for medical professionals to voice their advice and delivering that advice to institutions who can use it to craft policy. They function as an intermediary between scientists and those who craft healthcare policy. In this way, they are helping to reduce the cultural divide between scientists and nonscientists by facilitating a dialogue between the two parties.

This has been a particularly interesting meeting series for me to observe, because I’ve found myself on both sides of this cultural divide in the past. When I came to Duke, I was a biology major premed who had spent a decent amount of time in an immunology research lab, but I was also very involved in activities like debate that taught me to think about national policy. Since then, I have better merged these interests; I am double majoring in biology and philosophy and planning on attending law school.  I probably consider myself more of a science-oriented person than a policy-oriented person, but having interests and classes in both areas has allowed me to see how both sides contribute to the divide. In general, I feel that scientists struggle to connect with the public and communicate their research in non-esoteric ways and that nonscientists struggle with taking the initiative to educate themselves on science research. Throughout this meeting, I saw committee members address both issues. The economists and public policy professors asked the oncologists questions about cancer therapies, the oncologists shared communication concerns that their patients have mentioned, and all parties seemed very open to educate each other and accept criticism. I am excited to attend more workshops and committee meetings to observe other strategies that the NASEM uses to connect different stakeholders in health policy.