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To be honest, I didn’t know much about health policy coming into this summer. Considering I was set to begin an internship in Washington D.C. with the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, I was rather concerned there would be a steep learning curve. Now, barely over a week later, I feel like I know so much more than I did just 8 days of work earlier … and yet there’s so much more to learn. I’m by no means an expert, but if health policy were a language, I would say I will be conversationally fluent in a few dialects by the end of the summer.

I’ll admit I didn’t realize the incredible amount of material encompassed under the umbrella of health policy. From dealing with specific sections of the Affordable Care Act to the opioid epidemic to the threat of pandemic influenza, health policy covers a vast array of policy and research topics. I had thought health policy was a largely partisan issue given the attention political parties give the Affordable Care Act and the issue of its possible repeal. However, there are so many more aspects to health policy beyond the healthcare system that are somewhat less political. What I realized is that the different political parties may have differing opinions on how the healthcare system should work, but the primary goal of all politicians regarding health policy is the same: to make sure the American people are healthy.

The attempts to combat the opioid epidemic this legislative session are a great exhibit of this. The Senate and House are both working on bipartisan packages to address the opioid epidemic which are gaining rapidly in attention. Unless financial interests stand in the way, all politicians want innovative medical products to be developed, want patients to have access to the best possible care, and want advances in medicine to treat diseases and conditions better. Where the difference lies is the government’s role in all of this, and I think that’s where think tanks and independent research centers step in to provide analysis and support.

Listening to the employees at my office passionately explain issues in the field of health policy with which they are currently grappling is wild because they know these issues at such an intimate level. These past few weeks have been a very extensive introduction into health policy broadly — as well as diving deeply into a few topics — and there’s still so much I want to learn more about. Health policy may not be my primary area of study at Duke — I’m majoring in public policy — but I likely will focus more of my research, study, and internship opportunities in the future on health policy topics.