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Washington Program: Internship with National Organization for Rare Disorders
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Andrea Meyer

Paterno Fellow
Majors: International Politics, Health Policy Administration
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the College of Communications Washington Program, where a group of approximately twenty students work and live together in the nation's capitol. The program assists in finding their students internship opportunities and helped set up an interview for me with the National Organization for Rare Disorders. The program knew I wanted an internship that could apply to both my majors (International Politics and Health Policy Administration).

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

For ten weeks this summer I worked in the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) policy office based in Washington D.C. NORD has two other offices on the east coast, one in Connecticut and one in Boston. In the policy office I worked under the vice President of Public Policy, Diane Dorman, and her assistant, Paul Melmeyer. NORD is a nonprofit federation of voluntary health organizations dedicated to helping people with rare diseases. Policy-wise, our staff’s main responsibility is to represent the rare disease community to the government, pharmaceutical industry, and insurance industry. While on staff, I met and interacted with the front-line healthcare leaders in D.C. and worked on a variety of small policy projects for the organization. I would primarily shadow Diane or attend meetings and Congressional hearings that she did not have time to go to. Our office was fairly small so much of the work I did was hands on and the individual attention helped accelerate my learning pace.

"At the beginning of the summer I could hardly understand the terms and issues that my boss discussed, but by the end they became second nature to me."

How did this experience impact you academically?

Working for NORD this past summer was an amazing experience both academically and professionally. Those that I worked for primarily wanted me to walk away from the experience with something of value. The building I worked in was the headquarters of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institute was right next door so if I ever wanted to attend an event being hosted at either, they were completely open to it. About half way through my internship I really realized how much I was learning by talking to other health professionals and actually understanding the topics and concepts that they were discussing. At the beginning of the summer I could hardly understand the terms and issues that my boss discussed, but by the end they became second nature to me. I learned a significant amount about the rare disease community and the current federal government’s health agenda. Additionally, my knowledge increased considerably surrounding policy and how the "animal" that is Washington, D.C. functions.

What are your career goals or plans? How did this experience impact them?

Career wise I still have not figured out exactly what I want to do, but this past experience significantly helped narrow my frame of vision. Before the experience I thought that I might want to go into lobbying or work on the Hill specifically on health policy. However, my internship helped me discover that I would much rather work in development issues than policy. Though I loved working in the NORD office, policy work is extremely demanding and very dry. I found that I liked my work the most when I was working with other NORD staff on IT/Development issues. Additionally, I have always been more interested in international affairs and public health and still hope to pursue a masters in either issue.

Would you recommend this experience to other liberal arts students? If yes, why?

Yes, this internship is an amazing experience to work in the health policy world and get your feet wet for the first time.

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