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Salk Fellowship Celebrates International Year of the Nurse and Midwife

The 2020 Salk Health Activist Fellowship concluded on November 19th, culminating in a project to connect the 27 fellows with legislators. The fellows reflected on how the fellowship experience will impact them as the push for healthcare transformation in the future.

Every year, the Salk Health Activist Fellowship seeks to instill in young healthcare professionals the skills and knowledge to effectively advocate for improvements in the U.S. healthcare system. This year, which the WHO deemed the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, the Salk Fellowship focused on Pennsylvania policy change for maternal and reproductive health issues. For the first time, the Fellowship included fellows from across Pennsylvania, to most effectively address statewide policy issues. The cohort represented young professionals and multidisciplinary graduate students, who hailed from twelve universities and represented seventeen different degrees, all with a shared passion for maternal and reproductive health and policy change.

Over the course of nine weeks, the fellows heard from over 20 guest speakers, including experts in maternal health advocacy, policymaking, community organizing, lobbying, and casemaking. The Fellowship took a deep dive into understanding the policy process and policy levers available to make systemic change. Each week, the fellows gained new insights and skills as they worked towards their final project: engaging with a Pennsylvania State Representative or Senator in a 20-minute conversation to advocate for a maternal and reproductive health issue.

"The Salk Health Activist Fellowship blew my expectations out of the water," said Mitali Ray, PhD, BSN, postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. "The program delivers by not only teaching skills, strategies, and frameworks for how to implement advocacy to create lasting change, but it also provides fellows with an impressive network of potential collaborators and mentors alike. I feel an immense sense of gratitude for having been able to participate in such an impactful program whose resources will undoubtedly continue to guide me throughout my career."

Due to JHF's history of partnership with various legislators from Harrisburg, JHF coordinated with 14 different representatives and senators to meet with the fellows across 15 different conversations. Fellows crafted a compelling case for their issue and made an ask of the legislator. Some examples of the issues selected by fellows included expanding Medicaid coverage in the postpartum period, requesting support for legislation promoting maternal mental health access, as well as proposing ideas to address midwifery and doula shortages in the Commonwealth. The response from legislators was overwhelmingly positive, with some fellows already setting up future conversations at the start of the new year once the new legislative session begins.

Looking towards 2021, the Foundation is focused more intentionally on driving policy change through the Full Court Press initiative. The fellows' legislative conversations fit into the broader process of raising these issues, and JHF will continue to follow alumni as they advocate post-fellowship. Fellow Jessica Davis, BSN plans to submit an op-ed about proper lactation for publication, which she would not have done without the confidence she built in this fellowship, she said. Many other fellows shared crucial insights that will guide their careers and personal advocacy moving forward.

"I have learned so much, but the opportunity to talk with two state legislators and the realization of how personal this policy work was for me really made the experience incredibly valuable," said Rebecca Clark, PhD, MSN, BSN, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. "I have also identified a number of other opportunities to continue to engage in maternal health policy work at the state level. Policy is personal. The Salk Fellowship helped me to see that and gave me the tools to do something about it."

We want to thank the following State Representatives and Senators and staff members who met with our fellows:

  • Nick Centurione, Constituent Services Advisor to Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D – 148)
  • Sen. Jay Costa (D – 43)
  • Rep. Austin Davis (D – 35)
  • Rep. Ed Gainey (D – 24)
  • Colleen Greer, Legislative Director to Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R – 46)
  • Rep. Sara Innamorato (D – 21)
  • Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R – 134)
  • Lee Mooney, Chief of Staff to Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D – 148)
  • Grace Muller, Deputy District Director to Sen. Lindsey Williams (D – 38)
  • Rep. Donna Oberlander (R – 63)
  • Paige Riegner, Legislative Director to Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R – 134)
  • Seth Rolko, Executive Director to Sen. Lisa Boscola (D – 18)
  • Anjelica Sanders, Policy Director to Rep. Morgan Cephas (D – 192)
  • Sen. Judy Schwank (D – 11)
  • Mackenzie Strunk, Chief of Staff to Rep. Rosemary Brown (R – 189)
  • Sen. Judy Ward (R – 30)
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