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Students receive policy training to advance health equity during pandemic, political transition

Students receive policy training to advance health equity during pandemic, political transition

November 19, 2020 at 12:45pm

By Eric Feldman

Earlier this week, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially recognized racism as a threat to public health, for the first time in its 173-year history. Recently, 15 FIU seniors and graduate students got a sneak peek at how the AMA is advancing its health equity efforts, including this policy change, during the university’s “Future of Equity in Health and Beyond: COVID as a Catalyst for Change” virtual fly-in seminar.

The Fall 2020 iteration of the FIU in DC “Future of” Fly-In Seminar series in partnership with Campus Life included two sessions with Joaquin Baca, the AMA’s senior health equity analyst. After a morning presentation on how the organization was preparing to work toward its goals with newly elected officials after the election, Baca also served as a judge for the health equity policy proposals on transportation, food security and childcare prepared by FIU fly-in participants.

“I learned that even as a student, I can engage in dialogue with policymakers and that I have ideas worth sharing and questions worth asking,” said biological sciences major Innah Lachica.

The three-day seminar was designed by FIU’s Governmental Relations and Campus Life teams to take full advantage of the virtual format to craft a learning experience that highlights how health is affected by interconnected social determinants (such as transportation and education), and how the real-time factors of the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 presidential election are playing a role.

For the first time, the fly-in took place not on consecutive days, but in two parts both before and after the Nov. 3 election. Highlights of the first days included a panel discussion on the relationship between transportation and health with representatives from Humana, Lyft and Planning Communities and a session on careers at the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services, featuring Geffrey Grant, director of operations at

These sessions helped participants develop the necessary skills to engage in policy advocacy and to pursue relevant careers.

“I am now cognizant of specific attributes that I need to develop such as the practice of staying up to date with the results of recent Congressional hearings and proposed legislation,” said Vicky Vazquez, Ph.D. student in public health. “I have learned to appreciate the valuable traits I possess, including a deep desire to help elevate the needs of marginalized communities by using my voice.”

The second and third days included sessions focused on the pandemic and the election, including an election debrief with Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, senior deputy chairman at the National Endowment for Humanities; Livi Logan-Wood of the Center for Presidential Transition; and Kathryn DePalo-Gould, teaching professor and pre-law program director at FIU's Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. Students tuned in to the live CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices hearing on COVID vaccine distributions then had a private debrief with alumnus Brian Dean Abramson, an attorney who specializes in vaccine law. Other FIU alumni on panels during the seminar were Jesus Medina, a lead epidemiologist at DC Health and Amy Kennedy, health scientist administrator at the National Cancer Institute.


As is traditional for DC Fly-In Seminars, students had an opportunity to speak with staffers in Congressional offices. For one public health doctoral student, Ian Lee, this represented the capstone opportunity to ask for advice and gain practice in communicating policy positions.

“You don’t have to convince someone of a complex idea. You just have to convince them of your small story, with convincing factual information,” he said.

Panthers Spotted in D.C. this week (virtually):

Dr. Eneida O. Roldan, MD, MPH, MBA; Chief Executive Officer, FIU Health Care Network was a panelist during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 2020 Health Summit.

FIU in Washington, D.C., is an integrated advocacy approach aimed at increasing FIU’s national reputation and federal support for FIU’s preeminent and emerging preeminent programs, faculty and students. The FIU in DC team collaborates with academic units to provide learning experiences and support the placement of students and alumni in internships and permanent employment.