Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meet Hillary Lewis, Health Policy Consultant

Welcome to the debut of our series of profiles of New Voices! First up is Hillary Lewis, JD, health policy consultant to Dr. S. Ward Casscells, vice president for External Relations and Public Policy at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us this afternoon by chat...

NV: Question 1. What do you do?

I am currently working as a consultant to the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston on a grant funded project studying several related health care topics:
  1. How do Americans use the health care system?
  2. What are Americans' opinions on the health care system (quality, access)?
  3. What are Americans' opinions on health care reform? (both pre-passage and as passed)
  4. How will health care reform impact various industries, patient advocacy groups, and physician groups?
I also write papers analyzing the poll data we accumulated asking these questions.

NV: Question 2: How does your background in science - and in research particularly - help you?

My background in biomedical science as well as my studies in health law have positioned me to ask intelligent, novel questions on these topics. I am also tasked with tracking American opinions on basic and clinical research. I frequently refer to Research!America data to flesh out, support or contradict our findings.

My science background has helped me understand the polling process itself in addition to providing the mental training needed to probe these topics in ways that provide unique insights into areas that are fairly well parsed.

The research process is much like delving into these topics- you have a hypothesis that you're trying to gather more data to support or disprove, depending on your approach to the scientific method!

NV: What is the most exciting component of what you do?

Hillary: Meeting with thought leaders to expand our approach to our areas of interest. No amount of research into the topics and brainstorming with colleagues can top spending half an hour with someone who has spent a significant part of their lives developing the policies in place today.

It is amazing to meet people like Dr. Jay Sanders, the father of telemedicine, or Baroness Nicholson whose NGO, AMAR Foundation, works in Iraq to create community health systems in far-flung regions. These folks have spent enormous amounts of time and energy on the topics we are studying at UT and their insight is invaluable. To top it off, everyone I've had the chance to meet has been gracious and willing to share their knowledge and experience.

NV: Question 4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in advocacy?


  1. Figure out what you know and what gets you fired up. Once you determine this you can shape your activities as an advocate, probably within an established group.
  2. Take advantage of what's gone before! There is no reason to re-create the wheel. Research!America has all the tools you need to get started as an advocate for research, if that's what moves you. For other areas of advocacy, there are similar leaders that you can touch base with and who will help you.
  3. Don't be shy! Starch your shirt and take your message to your local Congressional or Senate office. They will be happy to hear from you, especially if you follow R!A suggestions for formatting your meeting and imparting you message by telling a story.
  4. Follow up and establish those networks. Make yourself known to the staffers and you'll be welcome back!
NV: Alright, last question: if you could change anything about the culture of science in the U.S. today, what would it be?

I think we need to be training scientists to get out of the lab and into the community. There is a lot of research to do, true, but in the end you're doing it for the benefit of everyone, and if you just take a few minutes to get out and tell people about it, knowledge about science would spread far more quickly and accurately than if we leave it in the hands of the media.

I doubt we can change the primary investigators who are set in their ways, but if we start with the next generation eventually we'll get there. In this I think we'd have to take a long-term approach rather than expect immediate results.

Thank you to Hillary for giving us a few minutes to learn more about her and her career. Her background - including lab work and law - make her an excellent advocate for research and it's a pleasure to hear from her again on the New Voices for Research blog where she was a regular contributor in January and February 2009.

This is part of our ongoing series Profiling New Voices for Research.

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