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This summer, I am interning at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. As a health policy think tank, the Margolis Center conducts interdisciplinary research to inform health care policy making and implementation. Here, I’m working on various projects related to payment and delivery reform, which involve examining innovative, evidence-based policy solutions to communicate science policy and produce policy guidance. Additionally, I’m tracking health policies going through the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the federal government and synthesizing information in weekly policy newsletters.

In both roles, the learning curve has been much steeper than any of my previous internships or classes at Duke. Health policy is an extremely broad field, and many of the projects I’m working on require specific knowledge on health care services, insurance programs, and federal regulations that I have never learned about before. This has been challenging because my public policy classes at Duke do not teach me about topics such as state-specific hospital programs or health care payment models. While Duke and the Sanford School of Public Policy have prepared me for interpreting and analyzing public policy, the Margolis Center is teaching me the value of experiential knowledge and being comfortable admitting that I don’t know things.

As an academic institution, Duke teaches me that knowledge is power. But at the same time, it’s easy for me to feel powerless when I don’t have certain knowledge. So far, my undergraduate career has been characterized by intensive classes and research projects that motivate me to build on subjects that I’m relatively familiar with already. The dynamic at my intern desk is different – I often find myself reading the news or academic articles filled with acronyms and terms that I’ve never seen before. To describe it in one word, I feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable working a full-time job in a field that I have little experience in, I feel uncomfortable not understanding the complexities of the U.S. health care system, and I feel uncomfortable not knowing how to navigate real-life political arenas.

However, the Margolis Center and DukeEngage are helping me understand that discomfort is not a bad thing, and that I should actively seek new opportunities to learn. Learning about health care and health policy this summer has taught me so much about science policy, public policy institutions, and communication. It has also made me recognize the importance of vulnerability and interdisciplinary dialogue. When I don’t know about a certain topic or research area, I look for help (sometimes this is a quick google search and sometimes this is meeting with another team member to ask questions). Although this seems like a simple concept, it is a necessary and arguably underrated skill for working in science policy. Thinking about the strengths that scientists and policy makers bring to the table, both sides should be able to mutually learn from each other and share resources. As an intern this summer, I’m working to keep educating myself despite the discomfort, because the knowledge and skills I am learning are well worth it.