May 14, 2019
HPM students co-author book on major healthcare decisions
By Chris Machado
In the political arena, healthcare is frequently seen as a third rail issue — often controversial and a conceivable career-ender.
In the Providence College Department of Health Policy and Management, the topic is an opportunity for students and their faculty mentors to have objective conversations, to conduct deep research, and to turn those efforts into a book.
As part of a series entitled Across the Aisle (ABC-CLIO publishing company), Dr. Robert Hackey, professor of health policy and management, Dr. Todd Olszewski, associate professor of health policy and management, and 12 students are writing Today’s Health Care Issues: Democrats and Republicans, which will be published in January 2021.
According to ABC-CLIO, the book series was created “to help students and the general public understand the positions taken by both of America’s major political parties on the most pressing issues of the day. Each volume in the series examines the parties’ positions — both historically and today — regarding a major area of American public policy.”
The genesis for this particular book project came when an editor for ABC-CLIO gauged Hackey’s interest in writing a volume for the series — one that added a balanced, well-researched voice to more partisan offerings by other authors. From that initial conversation, an 18-month, faculty-student academic partnership was born.
“I was intrigued because I always tell my students that it’s important to understand both sides of policy issues,” Hackey said. “There’s a lot of impassioned advocacy out there, but too few productive conversations. I was attracted to the idea of us writing an impartial assessment of various health policy issues.”
Hackey added that the students recruited to join in the project had excelled in past, taking writing- and research-intensive courses taught by Olszewski and him.
Focus on recent issues
As the title suggests, instead of reliving the history of healthcare in the United States, the team focused on issues from the past decade — a particularly bountiful period for noteworthy healthcare decisions such as end-of-life care, health insurance marketplaces, Medicare reform, pharmaceutical pricing, and single-payer healthcare.
Rose Shelley ’19 (Silver Spring, Md.), a health policy and management major, initially was tasked with writing a chapter on “Community Health Centers.” After significant research that showed general bipartisan agreement on the subject, Shelley shifted to “Children’s Health Insurance.”
“Since I had never gone through the process of such extensive research, I was nervous to share my struggle to find strong disagreements on this topic, but with the support and knowledge base of Dr. Hackey and Dr. Olszewski, I was able to discover a new path,” she said, noting the topic change was a success because children’s health insurance has been the subject of fertile, recorded debate between the two political parties.
Anne Capozzoli ’20 (Bel Air, Md.), a health policy and management and biology double major, has written two chapters for the book — one on “Medicare for All” and another on “Medicaid Expansion.” Both topics provided Capozzoli plenty of material from both sides of the aisle — in some cases, almost too much.
“I was surprised that there is no commonality among the states’ Medicaid programs. Each state has done their own thing, so reading about 50 different programs can be a bit overwhelming,” she said, adding that she also reads up to seven articles per day, spends hours drafting outlines, and more time actually crafting her chapters.
“The process has been challenging. The reward will come when my chapters are published, but I feel lucky to have written about two hot-button issues in the healthcare world today,” said Capozzoli.
Students as colleagues
Hackey explained that working with students on “meaningful” research projects is a focus of HPM faculty members. In his case, this is evidenced by recent explorations into issues ranging from the Affordable Care Act to the evolution of the physician’s assistant profession.
“I don’t think of students as research assistants but rather as junior colleagues,” he said. “They emerge from this process as scholars who’ve mastered a body of literature and learned how to present it to others.”
Shelley, who will be working for Syneos Health after graduation, called the experience “unique” because it allowed her to focus much of what she’s learned throughout her college education into a singular experience that she believes will pay dividends in her career.
“I don’t think most undergraduates are given opportunities like this, and I am sure it sets me apart in job interviews,” she said. “PC allowed me to connect with faculty and narrow in on my passion — to a point of publication — and I am so happy to have taken advantage of that.”
Capozzoli, who will spend the summer at PC as an HPM research assistant, echoed those sentiments by saying her research experiences have been “incredibly valuable to my development as a student” and adding that her relationship with Hackey has “become more of a mentorship than anything else.”
“This aspect of my education has been most challenging because it has forced me into areas I am not always comfortable in, but it has helped me develop in ways that I don’t think a lecture could,” she said. “I encourage any students to take advantage of these opportunities outside the classroom because I got a mentor out of it — someone who really believes that I am going to do great things in the world.”