Hans Arora: Medical Resident and Capitol Hill Fellow
Dr. Hans Arora '01 received an M.D. and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University's Medical Scientist Training Program. He is currently a Urology Resident at the Cleveland Clinic, and he is the Chair of the Governing Council for the Resident & Fellow Section of the American Medical Association. Dr. Arora recently spent a month working for a Congressman as a Holtgrewe Legislative Fellow. Ted Jou '99 spoke with Dr. Arora about his medical training, his leadership activities, and his eventful month on Capitol Hill.
I also attended committee hearings, and I acted as a resource when the staffers needed a resource on health issues. A big part of the experience is building a personal relationship with a Congressman and his staff, so if they a question, you can be the go-to person to give them the answer or help them figure it out.
It's pretty open-ended; it's a combination of being a useful part of the office - working on legislative issues, taking constituent meetings, and taking constituent phone calls just like every other staffer - but at the same time also being able to work on my own independent projects. For example, if there is a health policy issue that the Congressman is interested in learning more about, I could reach out to important stakeholder groups in healthcare like the American Hospital Association or the American Medical Association, and they are very engaged when you are calling from a Congressman's office.
You spent the last month on Capitol Hill. Tell me about that experience.
My official title was the Holtgrewe Legislative Fellow through the American Urological Association, and this is only the second year that they have offered the fellowship. One of the key parts of the fellowship is the Hill experience, so they work with a legislator to find a slot to be part of their office. I had a desk in Congressman Pat Tiberi's (R-OH) office, and I was able to work closely with his legislative staff on health issues.
You have been active in leadership and public policy issues from the time you were a medical student - how did you get involved in these activities?
I enjoyed getting the opportunity - as someone who has been in academia my whole life - to bring our approach to researching issues, bringing real evidence-based research to the health services area. They don't tend to use PubMed that often, but they were very receptive to suggestions and ideas that I had coming from the scientific and medical literature. Jumping into the middle of it was a humbling experience but also a very rewarding experience that makes you feel like you are contributing to the greater good.
There were a couple bills that were introduced where I wrote briefs for the Congressman and tried to reach out to stakeholders about those issues. For example, there was a bill to reform the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), and I had an opportunity to speak with the Chair of the USPSTF to get her perspective on the proposed changes.
What other things did you work on during your time on the Hill?
We didn't necessarily know what was going to happen beforehand, although when the President was calling a specific caucus or group of Congressmen to the White House, we might find out an hour or two before that happened. Otherwise, we were just watching C-SPAN and reading things on Politico - the press was everywhere.
It was very partisan issue, and a lot of the messaging came from the Ways & Means Committee staff rather than Rep. Tiberi's office, but we dealt with a lot of constituent phone calls on the issue, and also a lot people who were visiting in person who were very interested in finding out how the bill would affect them, and the people with whom they interact or feel responsible for in some way. Sometimes we had to wade through protesters - it was an interesting time.
This past month has been an exciting one in health policy. Were you involved specifically with the American Healthcare Act?
The day that I started was the day that the American Healthcare Act was released (Washington Post). Rep. Tiberi is the chair of the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee, which had a very prominent role in the health care legislation. I got to sit in when the bill was introduced for markup in the Ways & Means Committee, which lasted 18 hours (CNN) - I didn't stay the entire time but I was there for a good 8 to 10 hours, and that was my third day in the office. I also went to the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing (NPR) and went over to the Capitol to watch debates on the House floor.
Do you have an official title or role now in the AMA? What positions did you have in the past?
When I started medical school in 2005 as an MD-PhD student at Northwestern, I thought I would be doing drug discovery or device design following my undergraduate training as a chemical engineer (at Penn State). But a friend of mine was very involved in the American Medical Association (AMA), so halfway through my first year of medical school I went to a state medical society meeting. And what I found was that there are so many things about medicine that are not taught in medical school. There are so many things that influence the way we practice and the way we deliver patient care that are not found in any textbook. And these things are constantly changing. While attending that first meeting, I found it fascinating, and I met so many people that felt the same way - they were also fascinated by all of these things that are changing healthcare that we don't learn about in school. So I went to another meeting, and another meeting, and had an opportunity to join in an AMA lobby day where I participated in meetings in Congressional offices.
I was able to step into elected and appointed roles in the AMA, and after I chose a specialty (urology), I started doing the same thing with the American Urological Association (AUA). So I have had the opportunity to be involved in the analysis, decisionmaking, and also - one of the best parts about it, in my mind, is helping other people who have some interest in this area find where exactly their niche is, where exactly they can get more involved in the broader scheme of organized medicine, whether it's with legislative issues, with education, with health policy or public health, and helping them figure out where they see themselves and where they fit the best.
I always knew I wanted to be a doctor and go to medical school. The idea of being a medical researcher is something that has grown as I have gone through training from college onward - when I was in high school I didn't think about physicians doing a lot of research, but I spent my summers working in labs - including two summers at NIH and one at Naval Medical, and I continued working in labs in college.
Did you know you wanted to become a doctor when you were in high school?
I have two more years of residency, and I am planning on pursuing a fellowship in health services research. Looking at how and whether people access care, and the economics of health care, has been very interesting to me, and a way to mix my research background with my policy interests. I am still planning on being a practicing physician - practicing medicine is the bulk of what I want to do, but I also want opportunities to do research, particularly in the health services area.
I am the Chair of the Resident's Committee of the AUA, and I am the Chair of the Governing Council for the Resident and Fellows Section of the AMA. I had several roles when I was a medical student, including a corresponding position as Chair of the Governing Council for the Medical Student Section of the AMA.
Where are you now in your medical career?
When the President's January 27 Executive Order on immigration was enforced, a Cleveland Clinic resident, Dr. Suha Abushamma, was detained and sent back to Saudi Arabia.
Other than the research experience, are there other things about the Magnet Program that influenced you?
Everybody has to start somewhere, and you have to be humble about it when it's an area where you're not as familiar. Depending on how involved you want to get, you can go to your local political party meetings, volunteer in your community, and attend town halls. You can visit your Congressman's district office if you aren't close to DC. If you see an issue that is interesting to you or where you can offer some expertise, then lend that expertise - if you are a geneticist and a bill about genetics comes up, who else is going to be more informed about the implications of genetics-based policy than you? It's important to be able to lend that expertise and to able to share your own personal stories as well as data.
We are taught to be scientists, but that concept isn't necessary limited to the physical sciences. That mindset, which we all have coming out of the Blair Magnet, you can use that same approach and critical thought process, and apply it to policy issues. If you're a physician and there is an issue that affects your patients, give your testimony - tell your representatives the stories that you have. When you go a district office you likely won't meet directly with a Congressman, but if you sit down with a member of his staff, that person can be a great resource for helping the Congressman understand both sides of an issue. And that staffer is often someone very approachable with whom you might be able to develop a relationship. And if you do build a relationship, it's important to maintain that relationship over time.
Also in this issue: an article on Jordy Wolfand '07, an environmental engineer who also came to Capitol Hill in March
A lot of people are now becoming more interested in political advocacy for science or other issues. What would be your advice to other alumni who are looking for ways to get involved?
I think the really great thing about the Magnet Program is that it was always a safe place to be smart, because so often in high school it's not cool to be smart but in the Magnet it was cool to be smart - it was cool to like math. And not being at the top of the class - the smartest person who always got 110% on every quiz - was actually kind of nice. It made you feel normal. The Magnet Program really solidified that insatiable curiosity to learn more about the world around you - although that's something that we all had growing up, Blair really told you: "Don't push that away; embrace it." That is something I've really carried with me.
Dr. Arora helped to organize a gathering of Cleveland Clinic doctors and residents on February 2 to show support for their colleague. About two dozen doctors gathered to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and stand in silent protest. Dr. Arora explained: "There was not a lot that we could do as physicians - we wanted to show her that we were thinking of her and felt for the difficulty she was in."
The next week, after the executive order had been stayed, Dr. Abushamma was able to return to Cleveland.