The Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy announced five new Richmond Foundation Fellows in recognition of their work in public health policy.
The fellows for the 2022-23 academic year, announced Sept. 6, are Becky Normile, (GRD ’23), Alekhya Chaparala, (GRD ’24), Rosemary Rhodes (GRD ’24), Rehman Liaqat (GRD ’24) and Nadia Stovicek (GRD ’23). Fellows receive a partial-tuition scholarship of up to $25,000 and a paid research assistantship related to health care access with McCourt faculty. Though specializing in different fields, all five fellows are driven by personal connections to their work.
The George E. Richmond Foundation is dedicated to researching the role of oral health in comprehensive health care and advancing health through science, economics and policy. Fellows are selected for their demonstrated interest in health policy, addressing systemic issues in health and expanding access to health care.
Normile, who became interested in health policy after working with several states on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said the fellowship has broadened her understanding of the weaknesses of public health policy.
“It also showed me how much work we have left to do as a nation to ensure all individuals have access to high-quality, affordable care and are able to attain good health,” Normile wrote to The Hoya. “This is why I’m so excited and honored to be a George E. Richmond Fellow, where I’ll have the opportunity to examine strategies state Medicaid programs can use to improve access to oral health care for underserved populations.”
Having served as a teaching assistant for incarcerated students during her time as an undergraduate at Cornell University, Chaparala said the fellowship gives her the opportunity to use a policy perspective to pursue her passion for improving population health.
“The fellowship adds a practical experiential component to my experience at McCourt, and gives me an opportunity to explore my interest in health policy at the state and local level,” Chaparala wrote to The Hoya.
Rhodes, who is studying the sociodemographic, economic and environmental indicators of health service, said she is inspired by her mother, a physician who primarily treats low-income and marginalized populations in Washington, D.C.
“I grew up in my mom’s hospital — I volunteered there starting from the time I could pretty much walk and talk. This naturally led to a leading interest in health economics and policy,” Rhodes wrote to The Hoya. “I would constantly ask my mom why the different populations that she was seeing had different outcomes (or even, from my young eyes, why it seemed like one demographic was more susceptible to a condition than another).”
Social determinants of health, which include a patient’s race, age, residence, occupation and economic status, shape health outcomes like recovery rates and life expectancy. For instance, systematic inequality in housing conditions and food access contribute to higher rates of obesity, asthma and chronic illness in African Americans compared to non-Hispanic whites, according to the Center for American Progress.
Liaqat said memories of his immigrant parents overcoming the difficulties they faced coming to the United States fuel his passion for public policy.
“For me, such aspirations revolve around refugee and immigration policy,” Liaqat wrote to The Hoya. “From my mother’s refuge in the United States as a mother of six under life-threatening conditions in an underprivileged home to my father who drove a taxi in D.C. for nearly three decades, immigration reform has always been something that I knew I needed to pursue, not merely something I wanted to pursue.”
Liaqat said his lived experiences continue to inform his work in refugee and immigration policy reform and its intersection with health care accessibility. He hopes to use his background in Pakistani politics and policymaking to create processes that respect the rights of refugees, specifically, through his pursuit of creating access to affordable health care in the United States.
After seeing how research on health equity has grown as a field, Rhodes said she is optimistic that real change is possible within the new generation of policymakers.
“I hope that by the end of my life we’re closer to a world where all individuals have equal and affordable access to healthcare (because we should be realistic about how slow policy can work sometimes!),” Rhodes wrote. “I am of the opinion that when economic inequality is discussed, health should always be a component of that conversation.”