2016 PFIG Recipient Callie Johnson
Journal Entry #1
“This is the Capitol South stop. Doors open left side,” the metro conductor said. The metal doors whooshed open. Rushing with the rest of the masses, with their suits freshly pressed, earbuds tucked away, and newspapers in hand, I was soon off to my first day as an intern for the United States Senate Finance Committee’s health policy team. Along my walk to work, I passed the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Capitol, and, after pinching myself as a reminder that this moment was, in fact, a reality, the Hart Senate building where I would be spending my summer. Once inside, several things stood out to me. First of all, the atmosphere was busy. Everyone seemed to be rushing off to an important meeting or fervently typing away. You never knew what turn of events could happen next. I could not ask for a more real-time, fast-paced experience of observing policy in the making. Happenings on the Hill are literally creating the news; what happens here during the day is bound to be written about later that night. Speaking of, secondly, I noticed that the news is very important here. I even found that I have a small T.V. on my desk, which gives me access to any major news outlet, the House and Senate floors, and hearings conducted by committees. Our office also sends around daily news articles that mention our committee’s chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch. I have never felt more connected with major events and the world around me. The last thing that I learned on the first day of my internship was that I have a lot more to learn. If Capitol Hill is its own little city, then the realm of health policy is a whole other world, complete with a wide vocabulary of acronyms, a diverse cast of stakeholders, and an intricate system for creating and implementing policies. I am very excited to immerse myself in this learning experience and to absorb all that I possibly can during my time here.
As for my daily tasks thus far, there are several: The majority of my day is spent working on various projects given to me by the health team. For instance, I have tracked current health legislation that has been introduced by Finance Committee members, provided background research for upcoming hearings, and kept up with current events as they relate to the health team’s work. I also seize any and every opportunity to attend briefings presented by outside organizations like think tanks and non-profits and hearings hosted by other committees. Another favorite pastime of mine has been watching Senators give speeches and debate on the Senate floor. Moreover, as I mentioned previously, our office sends a daily e-mail containing news articles that reference Senator Hatch. I have been finding those articles each morning. I also help with general administrative duties, like running policy memos to and from Senator Hatch, staffing our front desk, and sorting mail. True to the fast-paced nature of Capitol Hill, no two days are similar, but they are all wonderful and full of opportunities to learn and experience all that there is to see and hear here. If my first few weeks have been so eye-opening and enriching, I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store!
Journal Entry #2
Wow, how time has flown! I have now been an intern with the Senate Finance Committee for about 10 weeks. Each day has been more interesting than the one before; new things to learn, exciting adventures to have, and delightful sights to see have waited around every corner. All the while, I have been a sponge. I take in everything around me. I feel myself filling to the brim—bursting with energy and passion for my work. Then, I process, I learn, and I repeat. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the moments from which I have most benefited in my summer as a sponge.
One of the best days yet was when I gave a tour of the Capitol alongside our Chief of Staff and his friends, who were visiting all the way from California. As an intern for the Committee, we do not give tours often, and in fact, this was to be my second tour ever. I was so nervous. I had written down historical facts and stories, practiced several routes through the Capitol, and rehearsed with another intern. Little did I know, once we went to give the tour, we learned that we had accidentally scheduled it for afterhours! As a result, many of my so carefully rehearsed routes were obstructed. My skills were tested, but to my surprise, this misadventure turned into an exciting, never-before-given tour made up of a combination of behind-the-scenes experiences. First, we saw Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. His fireplace is where the fire that burned the Capitol during the War of 1812 started. We also went to Senator Hatch’s President Pro Tempore office, which has the original painting of Abraham Lincoln that was used for his profile on the penny. In a fortuitous stroke of fate, we even bumped into Senator Hatch outside his office; it was my first time to meet him! Another highlight was seeing the old Senate bathtubs. Years ago, Senators would use these tubs to clean up after they arrived at the Capitol after hours of riding in a carriage or walking long distances. Lastly, we waited in the spot where the Senators arrive at the Capitol before they go vote on the Senate floor, and I had the chance to meet a few of them. What a day it was!
Another highlight was when the interns had a photo-op and Q&A session with Senator Hatch. He greeted each of us in turn, a kind, genuine smile on his face as he asked us where we go to school and expressed how glad he was to have us as interns. Once we had all gathered around the conference table, all it took was one question (“What has been your favorite memory during your political career?”) to hear the Senator’s enthralling journey through college during which time he worked as a janitor to pay for his tuition, followed by law school when he lived in a renovated chicken coop with his wife, and all of his various adventures in Congress. For instance, he shared the story of how he managed to stop a major bill from passing—what he thought would be a losing battle, given that he was a Junior Senator at the time. With every word, Senator Hatch exudes wisdom, authority, and poise; I held on to every word he had to say.
Most recently, I had the opportunity to help prepare for a major Finance Committee hearing on the MACRA, a piece of legislation passed last year that will majorly reform the way physicians are paid under Medicare by incentivizing quality over quantity. I helped gather the materials that we needed and made the binders for the Senator and his staff. I even got to walk with Senator Hatch to the hearing! It was neat to see all of our hard work actually play out amongst the Senators and the witness and then see a recording of it on C-SPAN and news articles published about it. Now, I am enjoying the opportunity to experience what happens after a hearing, as we meet with various stakeholders and hear their thoughts on MACRA and how it should be implemented.
All of these (and many more!) are the days that I did not want to get back on the Metro to go home. They are the moments that left me feeling full, gratified, and more excited to pursue a career in public service than ever before. As I enter my fourth year at UVA, these experiences will not only give me real-world knowledge upon which to draw but also will remind me of the goals towards which I am working. I could not be more thankful for them!
Journal Entry #3
Although my internship was coming to a close, my last two weeks working for the Senate Finance Committee had more adventures in store. At this point in the summer, the National Democratic and Republican Conventions had already passed, and many Senators had returned to their home states for campaign season. As a result, the pace of life on the Hill slowed down, and we interns had time for new endeavors both inside and outside of work.
First of all, I set up several meetings with new and existing contacts in the D.C. area. I was able to meet with people from the private and public sectors, including various health policy experts who have held a range of titles from E.R. doctor to policy advisor for a past President to NIH fellow. I held onto every word of advice and nudge of encouragement that they gave me. As I prepare to choose where I will start my career, I know that I will draw on what I learned from these conversations. It also was neat to make new, long lasting connections that will help me going forward, all because of a shared commonality with a fellow Wahoo, Louisianan, or health policy enthusiast.
A different kind of adventure came in the form of our “intern retreat” on my second to last day. Our group of five planned a trip to go white water tubing on the Potomac River near West Virginia. Upon arrival, we each were handed a life jacket and an inflatable tube. We loaded an old school bus and drove down to the river where the banks provided an ideal launching spot. The rapids and brisk current carried us downstream, as we lazily soaked up the sun and enjoyed one another’s company in a casual setting. We had such a blast that we went down the river twice, and our entire trip lasted almost 12 hours! Most of all, I appreciate the chance to cement these friendships before parting our separate ways after our internship.
With the number of my days in D.C. dwindling, I took full advantage of time during the evenings. Boy am I glad that I did! One night, I went with several friends to grab ice cream. It was a nice night, and we had the idea to walk along the Georgetown waterfront with our sweet treats. However, when we arrived, we were surprised to see a large crowd gathered outside one of the restaurants. It was easy to see why. The restaurant was blocked off by police tape and surrounded by black sedans and men toting large guns. To our great surprise, we discovered that President Obama was eating his birthday dinner inside! Thrilled to have discovered this opportunity to see the leader of our country, we waited two hours until the President left the restaurant. When he did at last, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” together, the President waved with a grin, and before we knew it, he zipped away with his entourage in tow. I could not have asked for a more quintessential D.C. experience to end my summer!
My last day of work was especially meaningful, as our team celebrated this bittersweet day with frozen yogurt. Our staff expressed their sadness that we had to go, and I felt even sadder to leave them! They truly became mentors for me throughout the summer, and they graciously taught me more about health policy and the legislative process than I could have ever imagined. While I did not want to leave, I left not only with knowledge that I can carry with me back to school and my future career but also a reaffirmed passion for health policy that now burns brighter than ever.
As my online journal has shown, I have had memorable experiences both at and outside my internship with the Senate Finance Committee that I will treasure, learn from, and build upon in the years to come. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity and especially grateful to the Parents’ Committee for making it possible!