James Madison University

Health Policy Collaborative Hosts Summit

By: Daniel Vieth '15, '17
Posted: January 29, 2016

Most clinical health education focuses primarily on teaching students about their specific disciplines and how they can provide better patient care. What isn’t taught is how to navigate the political underpinnings and policy changes impacting their fields. Looking to teach students about the importance of advocating for their practices, JMU’s Health Policy Collaborative (HPC) recently hosted their second Health Policy Summit, with 276 students working directly with legislators to explore alternative policies that would help reduce the Medicaid gap impacting 400,000 uninsured Virginians.

JMU Students discuss options

HPC was originally co-founded by School of Nursing Head Dr. Julie Sanford, and nursing faculty Dr. Maria deValpine and Dr. Melody Eaton, with later help from faculty from health sciences and business. The main mission of HPC is to bring students, faculty, and community members together to advocate for better health policies, as well as encourage interdisciplinary learning between health students. “We feel like we need to do this for our students, because increasing [student’s] knowledge and comfort level of policy and advocacy will really prove beneficial to our profession and our clients,” Eaton explained. “We really believe that we have to teach students while they’re still students, so they can hit the ground running and better advocate for access, cost effectiveness, and quality care.” 

One example of health policy implications is the gap of 400,000 uninsured Virginians, resulting from the state denying a federal subsidy to expand Medicaid after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The debate is divided on party-lines, with Democrats typically wanting to accept the subsidy to help insure the gap, while Republicans worry about the economic burden Virginia faces when the subsidy ends. “It was a hot topic in the state legislature last year, and it’s still unresolved,” Eaton explained. “There are definitely pros and cons to either side, and we try to let students make their own decision.” HPC’s first health policy summit in the fall of 2014 directly addressed this policy issue, with 82 students and local legislators coming together to explore alternative policies that could help the uninsured affected by the Medicaid gap. 

Both summits were organized based on Michaelson’s Team-Based Learning (TBL), a teaching model designed to go beyond covering content to include practicing concepts and solving problems through small-group interaction. Students first received information about the Medicaid gap through the HPC website in advance. On the day of the summit, students were divided into teams based on experience with policy advocacy, took an Individual Readiness Test (IRAT), and discussed the group’s answers with faculty members. “We use that as a teachable moment,” said Eaton. “We talk about their answers, Medicaid, and about the current situation as it stands.”

JMU students prepare presentation

Following the IRAT tests and discussion, the groups participated in a ‘Mind the Gap’ exercise, where they developed alternative plans for helping those impacted by the Medicaid gap, created posters to detail their plans, and voted on the top three plans. Legislators then had the opportunity to see the group’s ideas through a ‘gallery walk’ of the various posters, and the top three plans presented their plans in full. “There were some excellent presentations with different ways to help Virginia citizens,” Eaton added. “The legislators were really interested, we had some really good dialogue at the end, and they even wanted transcripts from all the groups to take back.”

As Eaton explained, these summits have given students the chance to “learn how to work in an interprofessional group, advocate for their practice, gain perspective of other professions, and communicate with and build rapport with legislators.” HPC plans to continue hosting these summits annually, focusing on a number of different policy debates or even expanding to federal policy issues, as well as add other events during the year. “We’re excited to do this every year,” Eaton added. “It’s a great opportunity for students to link advocacy with civic engagement.”